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5/30/2014
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Telemedicine's Appeal Grows For Employers, Individuals

The ability to virtually connect patients and physicians is shaking up healthcare and dialing up a host of new opportunities.

Healthcare Dives Into Big Data
Healthcare Dives Into Big Data
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Telemedicine is reshaping the healthcare industry, giving employers an additional (and less expensive) way to provide care and disrupting roles that have lasted centuries.

This year, 28% of companies with more than 1,000 employees offer telemedicine as a benefit and 24% expect to add that capability in 2015, said Dr. Allan Khoury, senior health management consultant at Towers Watson, in an interview.

"That's a sea change in our world," he said. "The return on investment, while not huge, is relatively assured. The employees who use the service, which may be 20% of employees and dependents, like it a lot. They also like it because dependents can use it."

[Seeking clarity: Telemedicine Guidelines Tackle Patient Safety, ICU Operations.]

Employer costs typically depend on volume but new pricing models and providers are opening this model to smaller organizations, said Khoury. In some cases, employees share no burden; in others, the co-payment is lower or similar to that paid for an in-office visit to a physician or walk-in clinic, he noted. And while some patients use telemedicine only in the case of an emergency -- such as after-hours or on weekends -- a growing number view these services as their primary caregivers, Khoury said.

"Many people don't even have primary care doctors. Many people with insurance don't have primary care doctors. They tend to be younger. They desire to have a medical visit via their smartphone. That visit will become more and more robust as time goes by," he said. "Within five years, you'll be able to plug a supersensitive microphone into your smartphone and a doctor will be able to listen to your heartbeat."

InstaMD, for one, has an Indiegogo campaign for its Multi-Use Headset that works with "any stethoscope to record amplified, high-quality sound that can be archived for independent patient tracking or shared with a patient’s medical provider," Dr. Subbarao Myla, co-founder and chief marketing officer, told InformationWeek. "It’s a great tool for prevention and early detection for those who may have certain types of heart conditions that run in their families. It’s also great for patients with chronic diseases who need long term care. They no longer have to waste so much time and money on commuting to medical appointments because they can see their doctor for a quick check from the comfort of their sofa."

InstaMD plans to release a family of devices for telehealth.  (Source: InstaMD)
InstaMD plans to release a family of devices for telehealth.
(Source: InstaMD)

For healthcare organizations to thrive they must do more than adapt, said Matt Zubiller, vice president of strategy and business development at McKesson, in an interview. "It's really important to think about opportunities for disruption or how be disruptive," he said, especially for older, larger organizations.

As providers address value-based instead of fee-based care, they need new partners, agility, and a willingness to experiment with creative thinking, Zubiller said. McKesson's Better Health Tour, initially held in three cities, brought together members across the healthcare spectrum to discuss challenges and opportunities, like telemedicine.

"In the face of all this change, it's very easy to get discouraged and basically put your head in the sand. In order to move forward it may mean the way you're currently making money today and the way you're providing care today, may not work anymore," said Zubiller. "In order to avoid being

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Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
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5/30/2014 | 11:08:32 AM
Re: Disruption Ahead
Another challenge: Some people in leadership positions may not be in these positions within 10 years because they plan to leave. Do they really want to tackle these big, disruptive issues -- issues that will probably cause a lot of headaches, people to leave, and many sleepless nights -- when they can ride the tide until retirement in five, six years? It's certainly understandable that they want to leave on a current high note rather than deal with the unexpected... This is where a strong, innovative board should come into play.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
5/30/2014 | 10:54:10 AM
Re: Disruption Ahead
That's the Innovator's Dilemma - established organizations are often full of people who see the change coming, but all the incentives are aligned against change, and they get to watch others execute on their own best plans. 
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
5/30/2014 | 9:36:37 AM
Disruption Ahead
Can you think of ways in which your organization or other healthcare organizations are disrupting established models to prepare for the changes in healthcare? As Dr. Klasko told me, when you ask healthcare leaders whether they expect their organizations to be totally different 10 years from now, they all say yes. But when you ask whether they are DOING anything differently this year or next year, the answer is NO. That leaves them eight years to totally transform their organization, often times organizations that are very large and very complex. 
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