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Summer Series: The Future of Telehealth Technology (Part 1)

Health Consulting

By Dr. Jamie Skipper, RN, PhD and Jesse Walsh MPH

You might have heard of telehealth in reference to rural populations, who often must drive hours to the nearest clinic for health care. In fact, until now, telehealth has been practically synonymous with rural health as the modality used by physicians to provide care for distant populations. But it would be a mistake to think that convenience for rural populations is all that telehealth has to offer health care.

Throughout history, technology has emerged as one solution only to pivot to a much more expansive purpose. Think of the US government’s experiment to help military centers communicate during nuclear attacks birthing the internet, or Black & Decker’s lightweight solution to collecting moon samples for NASA creating the Dustbuster as we know it. Telehealth may have materialized as a solution to rural health care, but it can and should be the definitive path toward the future of health care.

It’s no limited phenomenon that people in today’s connected world are busy; balancing work and personal priorities through a series of ever-refreshing feeds with no shut off. Patients may have less time to devote to health care, but that doesn’t mean wellness is any less important. As a result, people are looking for simple, convenient, and most importantly, digital ways to support their health. In a given room, you’re likely to find at least half willing to track their fitness and nutrition via technology. And the truth is, for the vast majority of every day health issues, telehealth provides better care faster and without wasting resources.

Not only are people comfortable with the convenience of digital transactions, they’ve come to expect it. Whether retail, groceries, travel, or even health, consumers have come to expect an app or online way to find goods and services instantly, receive them in the convenience of their homes, and reach customer support if anything goes wrong. In light of this culture, making your way to a doctor’s office, waiting sometimes hours to be seen, and going to separate locations for lab work and pharmacies feels laughably inconvenient, and will certainly be eliminated inefficiencies in health care soon.

Health tech entrepreneurs are starting to creatively show us over and over again that innovative applications with appropriate business models allow most routine health care visits to be handled remotely. Babyscripts, a hybrid prenatal care provider, wants to reduce cost, improve access to care, and improve outcomes among pregnancy and birth, all while shrinking the traditional fourteen prenatal in-office appointments for a low risk pregnancy down to eight. Doctors receive thirty times the data and touchpoints through connected medical devices and are able to catch dangerous conditions like preeclampsia more quickly, providing top quality care that is much more convenient to women’s schedules. During its recent round of venture capital funding, Babyscripts raised close to five million dollars.

Another solution to watch is Sherpaa, a platform that dubs itself “the doctor of the future.” Sherpaa is an entirely remote health care provider whose goal is to eliminate urgent or primary care in-office visits entirely for their patients, and instead provide the expertise of Sherpaa doctors for diagnosis, test ordering, prescriptions and refills, and even arranging visits or procedures with specialists local to you if necessary. As trailblazers in the field, both Babyscripts and Sherpaa have had triumphs and pitfalls dealing with funding. But their successes, despite VC challenges, is a testament to the future of telemedicine as the norm.

So, what does this mean to other entrepreneurs developing the next generation of health technology?  With the recent wave of national legislation pushing bundled care reimbursement under the value based care umbrella of MACRA while simultaneously exploring ways to directly support the proliferation and reimbursement of telehealth services, we think the ecosystem is ripe to incorporate modes of health care that deliver both convenience and quality at lower costs. Telehealth is not a fad or just the newest trend in health technology; it is the future of health care. And if you’re an entrepreneur in the health field, you should be paying attention.

Tune in to the next several installments of this blog series, in which we’ll explore the components for success in a telehealth environment and what national regulations and programs can be leveraged to scale your solution successfully.

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