By Dr. Alan Roga, President, Provider Market, Teladoc

The number of U.S. health systems with consumer-service telehealth programs is on pace to nearly double from 2016 to 2018, according to findings from the Hospital & Health Systems 2016 Consumer Telehealth Benchmark Survey by Teladoc. Seventy-six percent of U.S. hospitals and health systems either have in place or expect to implement a consumer telehealth program by 2018. Drivers for the rapid adoption growth include the desire to improve access to care, improve care coordination, increase efficiency, prevent readmissions and expand population health programs.

In addition, 69 percent of organizations that currently have consumer telehealth programs are planning to expand their offerings, and 76 percent of organizations without consumer telehealth indicate it is a high strategic priority for their organizations.

The report is based on a recent survey conducted in December 2016 by Teladoc in partnership with Becker’s Healthcare. The survey produced 179 responses from CEOs, chief financial officers, chief marketing officers, chief medical information officers, strategy and innovation executives and other key telehealth stakeholders representing acute care, academic and community hospitals from single-state and multi-state systems. Sixty percent of respondents were from non-profit organizations and 40 percent were from for-profit institutions. By region, 52 percent of respondents were from the Midwest, 33 percent from the East and 15 percent from the West.

The survey was intended to identify the leading drivers and uncertainties regarding telehealth and add to the limited pool of benchmark data about telehealth adoption by hospitals and health systems, including their goals, the services they currently offer and plan to offer, organizational structures and more. Data is presented for three respondent groups: hospitals and health systems that have telehealth programs in place, those that are planning to introduce telehealth services, and those with no plans to implement.

Key findings include:

  • 76 percent of hospitals have or will be implementing consumer telehealth by December 2018
  • 69 percent of the organizations that already have telehealth are expanding their programs

Hospitals are pursuing telehealth as a way to expand access to care, make care more convenient for patients, create new efficiencies, improve care coordination, prevent readmissions, better monitor and treat at-risk populations, and expand population health programs. Those were the leading telehealth program drivers cited by organizations that have telehealth programs in place, and those that are planning to implement telehealth. Telehealth adoption is being driven more by the desire to improve care than to reduce cost: 70 percent of organizations that offer telehealth programs say patient satisfaction is the most important element of program success, compared to 28 percent who say it is return on investment.

Figure 1: Top Five Goals for Hospitals/Health Systems with Current Consumer Telehealth Programs

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Source: Hospital & Health Systems 2016 Consumer Telehealth Benchmark Survey

 

Figure 2: Top Three Goals for Hospitals/Health Systems Planning to Introduce Telehealth by 2018

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Source: Hospital & Health Systems 2016 Consumer Telehealth Benchmark Survey

The diversity of those drivers and goals cannot be addressed by a single telehealth use case. The hospital and health system executives surveyed recognize this and are planning programs accordingly. They indicated intentions to provide a wide range of services through telehealth. Primary care, often oriented to prevent unnecessary trips to an emergency department (ED), is the most common use case. Nearly half of organizations with telehealth programs currently offer psychiatric services, and more than 40 percent have programs designed for readmission prevention and chronic condition management. The highest-priority practice areas for expanding telehealth services include cardiology, orthopedics and additional chronic condition management (each are planned by 23 percent of current telehealth users), readmission prevention, oncology and psychiatric/talk therapy services (each planned by 20 percent), and infections disease management, pain management and neurology (13 percent each).

Figure 3: Leading Telehealth Services Offered — Current Users

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Source: Hospital & Health Systems 2016 Consumer Telehealth Benchmark Survey

The most common use cases for organizations that are planning to start telehealth programs are ED/urgent care (45 percent), readmission prevention (42 percent), primary care, including internal medicine and pediatrics (42 percent), chronic condition management (41 percent). Nearly one in five (18 percent) new adopters is planning to offer cardiology services.

Figure 4: Planned Telehealth Service Offerings — Future Users

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Source: Hospital & Health Systems 2016 Consumer Telehealth Benchmark Survey

Although the pace of telehealth adoption is accelerating, the survey also found obstacles and indications of immaturity. Many hospitals and health systems do not measure patient or physician satisfaction with their telehealth programs, even though improving patient satisfaction is a leading motivator for offering telehealth services. Gaining physician buy-in was the number-one lesson learned among organizations that have already introduced telehealth programs; it was cited by 78 percent of respondents. The importance of aligning telehealth initiatives with organizational goals ranked just after gaining physician buy-in as the most important lesson learned (75 percent). Telehealth users also attach significant importance to working with a telehealth solution partner that provides a product roadmap.

Telehealth users and non-users alike say securing reimbursement is an obstacle to expanding telehealth use. While reimbursement was the leading obstacle cited in the year-earlier survey, it appears there has been progress. In a 2015 survey[i] 72 percent of respondents said reimbursement was a top challenge, compared to 34 percent in 2016.

Current telehealth users say automated claims submission is the feature they most desire in a solution, while organizations that are planning to introduce telehealth place the most value on functionality for in-network referrals, which is the second-most desired feature among current users.

The full report includes more insight on the topics referenced here, plus data on telehealth program maturity, program leadership structure, the leading lessons learned by current telehealth users, program marketing budgets and more. It is available at https://www.teladoc.com/materials/resource/2016-consumer-telehealth-survey-results/.

 


[i] Melissa Braganza, MPH and Melissa Stahl, Health Management Academy “The Academy H2C Strategic Survey Telehealth” August 3, 2016.