Last week, the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) held its annual conference in Chicago. The ATA is the world's largest association focused on telehealth. The conference brings together the best and brightest minds in the industry from medical researchers, practicing clinicians, and digital health companies.
The issues brought to light at the ATA annual conference often foreshadow where the telehealth industry is heading 3-4 years into the future. A walk around the exhibit hall of the conference gives a glimpse into the ideas and companies that will change the future of healthcare delivery.
ATA 2018 felt like a tipping point for the industry. The established Goliaths of the industry brought telemedicine mainstream by operational man-power. The telehealth of the future appears more nimble and focused, with many companies carving out a narrow population health problem to conquer with doctors working alongside AI.
1. Searching for Medical Experts
Most of the initial telemedicine offerings focused on general medicine for urgent care visits. Telemedicine for urgent care remains a great strategy for reducing patient use of expensive alternatives like the ER for basic health needs, like the flu.
2018 has seen new technology enabling a wider variety of medical care to be delivered remotely. But the industry needs more medical professionals with expert skills to help create the right telehealth product and deliver the care to consumers.
2. Consolidation Is Coming
The medical industry has often used mergers and acquisitions as a way to consolidate ideas and workflows to deliver better, cost-effective care. Think of 2017's mega-merger of CVS and Aetna. Telemedicine felt the first of what may be many acquisitions with American Well acquiring Avizia.
The consolidation is a sign of the industry's maturity. Telemedicine, once a fringe dream in healthcare, is going mainstream. Larger consolidated companies will compete head to head with health systems for consumers in the future. And we will likely see more traditional health systems or health insurers acquire telemedicine companies to get on board with consumer adoption.
As an example following the CVS-Aetna merger, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini reiterated the benefits of remote monitoring technologies, including Bluetooth-connected glucose meters coupled with apps for virtual telehealth providers that alert patients when their blood sugar levels are off, as a vital part of his strategy — one that will improve care and lower costs.
3. AI as a Tool for Clinical Decisions
It seems either artificial intelligence or blockchain is the buzz term in every industry right now. Healthcare is no exception, with several panels forecasting how AI will change healthcare delivery. Many companies in telehealth are already using some form of AI. As an example, Zipnosis helps guide patients through health systems with a machine-learning patient interview that shifts traditional doctor-patient Q&A to an algorithmically driven model where the healthcare provider makes treatment decisions based on the AI recommendation given the patients answers in the adaptive interview.
A new consumer-facing company, 98point6 is aiming to disrupt the primary care landscape with a text-based, AI-driven service. 98point6 chat works alongside full-time telehealth doctors helping to speed up and improve the consumer experience and enhance healthcare quality.
The question for AI and healthcare is not whether AI will make an impact, it's already here, the big question is how much AI will upend the conventional healthcare delivery modes and operations. As an example of a future world, an AI screening tool that consumers are driven to before any ER or urgent care encounter. The assessment could happen from your home, with the AI directing you immediately to the right doctor or the right prescription instead of the patient and medical team spending hours on each patient, regardless of the severity of the health issue.
In this scenario, healthcare facilities can become more decentralized, care can be delivered faster and more accurately, and the only patients physically in the hospital are the patients that have truly life-threatening issues.
4. Asynchronous Goes Mainstream
In some ways, the rise of asynchronous telemedicine and AI go hand and hand. Many new products hitting the market include chatbot features to assess the patient for treatment and take medical history in a matter of minutes. Take Warby Parker's Prescription Check App.
A patient goes through what feels like a text conversation on a mobile phone, giving their eye prescription information and medical history. If the chatbot determines the consumer is fit for treatment, an eye exam will be performed and eventually reviewed by a remote telehealth optometrist.
Another glimpse into the future is the exclusively men-only platform, Hims. Hims is a direct-to-consumer telehealth platform for men to get treatment for male pattern baldness or erectile dysfunction. The treatment is based on intuitive online health assessments, which are reviewed that same day by a licensed telehealth physician working remotely. If the treatment is approved the patient receives a monthly delivery. The service is cash based, no hassles, and no insurance.
Hims shows one great example of a consumer-focused model detached from traditional health insurance and how independent health systems can take over a market segment in healthcare.
5. More Telehealth Jobs Than Ever
The telehealth industry needs more great doctors - hat much is crystal clear. New innovators like Hims are ramping up to hire doctors nationally. And existing giants in the industry like Doctor on Demand are searching for top talent at a rapid pace to scale and widen their reach of services.
It's never been a better time for doctors and other medical professionals looking for career alternatives to embrace telemedicine. Some companies are looking for full-time doctors, while other companies using asynchronous tools will work with new telehealth doctors to fit with their schedule, whether that is 10 or 30 hours a week.
More telehealth jobs for more specialties than ever are hitting the market. Wheel helps match you to the telehealth job that fits your job experience and lifestyle. To learn more, sign up with the Wheel clinician network today.
And to better prepare yourself for your career change, we recommend that you start familiarizing yourself with essential telemedicine terms clinicians should know.