Thought Leadership

Amid an Uncertain Telehealth Market, Telemedicine Stands Out

By Chris Gallagher, MD, CEO, Access TeleCare

Survey after survey of health care consumers in 2022 found both increasing rates of use of telehealth visits and of satisfaction with them. All of these studies from AHIP and RAND to the American Medical Association and J.D. Power credit, at least in part, the pandemic for accelerating adoption of telehealth. Consumers and physicians alike are satisfied overall with the delivery of virtual care, citing its convenience and ease-of-use, and believe that its increased rate of use and acceptance will continue even after the pandemic’s end. 

These studies all focus on direct-to-consumer physical and behavioral health services where consumers can connect with a health care professional remotely, from their home or office or wherever they find themselves. 

Despite the increasing rates of use and satisfaction, however, some of the biggest names in direct-to-consumer telehealth had a tumultuous year. Acquisitions that didn’t meet expectations, below-projected revenue, higher losses, and falling stock prices were commonplace.

As the direct-to-consumer telehealth market sorts itself out and works through who will be the dominant players, differentiating high-acuity, specialty telemedicine is critical. Telemedicine – bringing specialists to hospitals and clinics via technology – to consult with both patients and on-site clinicians as part of a care team is very, very different from direct-to-consumer telehealth.

  1. Telemedicine augments and enhances, not replaces, in-person care.
    Telemedicine specialists partner with on-site physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and other health care professionals to holistically care for patients with complex, serious, and sometimes life-threatening conditions. They integrate with on-site processes and protocols and are interwoven into a facility’s culture and operations. They build rapport with on-site nurses and collaborate with the entire care team.
  2. Telemedicine reduces access-to-care disparities and evens out geographic imbalances in physician supply and availability.
    Direct-to-consumer telehealth typically gives additional points of entry to the healthcare system for those who already have them. Facilitated and managed specialty telemedicine puts physicians in places where they have traditionally been missing to provide patients care they have traditionally lacked. For hospitals for which recruiting and retaining specialists, such as neurologists, cardiologists, and maternal-fetal medicine specialists, is cost prohibitive or out of the realm of possibility because of their location and insufficient patient volume, telemedicine is the most cost-effective means of providing specialty coverage when and where it’s needed.
  3. Telemedicine leverages technology to democratize access to care and extend and broaden the reach of the finite resource of specialist supply and availability.
    Eighty percent of U.S. counties have no infectious disease physicians. Of the country’s only 1,800 maternal-fetal medicine specialists, 96 percent practice in major urban areas. In some areas of the country, a single nephrologist could be responsible for as many as 300 to 400 patients with end-stage renal disease. Nearly every specialty has a shortage story.Educating and training more specialists requires resources and time – some specialties require up to a decade of post-medical school training, and the process of creating new residency and fellowship training opportunities is a policy question. Specialty, high-acuity telemedicine is available here and now and can be deployed in almost every hospital, no matter their location, within months, and specialists can almost immediately begin caring for patients across cities, across counties, across states, and across the country.
  4. Telemedicine helps hospitals, clinics, and physician practices achieve financial, patient care and quality goals.
    As partners, telemedicine specialists are committed to helping the bricks-and-mortar facilities achieve their goals in quality, revenue, and outcomes. The telespecialists are invested in the tele-service being successful so that the facility can retain more patients locally, reduce transfers, be more profitable, and ultimately better serve their communities.

For health care facilities that have been on the fence about implementing specialty telemedicine programs because they fear their community and patients won’t accept not being able to touch and feel their physician, the survey data on telehealth use and satisfaction should provide some comfort. Awareness of the fundamental differences between telehealth and telemedicine, however, should be paramount, particularly while the direct-to-consumer telehealth market remains in flux. 

Learn more about specialty telemedicine by visiting the Access TeleCare Team at ATA2023, Booth #414.

Chris Gallagher, MD, is a board-certified cardiologist and serves as Chief Executive Officer of Access TeleCare, the largest national provider of acute care telemedicine. 

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