There are few better positioned to speculate on what’s next for telehealth than Roy Schoenberg, co-CEO & President, of Amwell. After 15 years, more than $710M in total funding, and probably the best analogies out there for describing telehealth’s potential as a disruptive technology, Roy weighs in on just how unprecedented COVID19 has been for the uptake and evolution of virtual care.
“Historically, people thought, could telehealth be as good as a physical visit? The reality of COVID,” says Roy, “has literally opened the door to the question, can telehealth be better?”
From the near-term “new wave” of telehealth that has already begun to “eclipse the urgent care telehealth” to how Amwell’s clientele of clinicians, healthcare delivery systems, and payers are shifting to accept the idea of the technology as “the start of healthcare,” Roy talks of a future of telehealth that is “entrenched inside the system.” And how Amwell is meant to act as “facilitator.”
“When we start thinking about telehealth as a switchboard — not as a product, but as an infrastructure for the redistribution of healthcare — we’re talking about a completely different experience for us as Americans on what healthcare is available to us and how we can consume it.”
“To me, and I’ll fast forward to the end here, we want to get to the point that telehealth changes our expectation when we grow old as to where we can grow old. We want to be in a place where we can stay at home…where we don’t have to be in the ‘belly of the beast’ to get healthcare.”
How far away is this future that Roy describes, midway through telehealth’s biggest year yet? Is the appetite there among incumbents? And what of those Amwell IPO rumors? How might that kind of funding help rush things along? Tune in to this episode of ‘WTF Health – What’s the Future, Health?’ with Jessica DaMassa to find out.
At a conference for America’s Health Insurance Plans, Gladwell argued that patients or consumers have been unable to be more empowered because doctors, as the intermediary, held the power of knowledge much the same way chauffeurs did for the early days of the automobile and Xerox technicians did in the early days of photocopying. A person was needed to guide and assist the individual to get the job done. At some point, however, the technology became simpler. People began to drive their own cars and make their own photocopies. The mystique of the chauffeur and technician was lifted. Now everyone could drive. Everyone could make photocopies.
Is it possible that for health care and the health care system, which for many people is a system they interact with rarely and in an area (health / illness) where the uncertainty and stakes many be too “high”, that individuals willingly defer the responsibility to someone else? Gladwell hints that might be a possibility:
“A key step in any kind of technological transition is the acceptance of a temporary deficit in performance at the beginning in exchange for something else,” said Gladwell. That something else can eventually include increased convenience and lower cost. He offered a number of examples, including the shift to digital cameras where early pictures were not as good as film and the advent of the digital compression of music, which he contends has made the quality of music worse….
Once again, the Supreme Court was unsurprisingly surprising. The conventional wisdom was that at least part of the health reform law would be overturned, but in practice the court blessed the status quo we have known for two years: The reform law will continue to be implemented.
It’s the devil we’ve known. Washington will issue more regulations. Insurers will be buried in requirements on coverage and benefits, driving up costs. Physicians will have more oversight and report to the government. Hospitals will see Medicare cuts. Millions of individuals will either get a new federal subsidy for insurance or be enrolled in Medicaid.
States will have more interference from Washington. While the Supreme Court gave them some flexibility on whether to expand their Medicaid programs, states will still be forced to either build a new insurance exchange, like Expedia for health insurance, or have the federal government build it for them.
By upholding the law, the court also left untouched two huge problems looming on the horizon. First, as the law expands coverage there will be a tremendous increase in demand for medical services, but there will not be an increase in the number of doctors, nurses and other providers to deliver care.
Millions of people may have very generous coverage, but they will struggle to find providers to deliver it.
Second, as businesses face requirements in 2014 to offer federally approved health insurance or pay a fine, many companies will do the math and see that paying the penalty is far less expensive than continuing to provide coverage.
What a cliffhanger! It is an historic decision, found on the narrowest possible grounds, with a majority agreeing on the result, but not broadly on the reasoning.
Effects: The principal effects of the finding, from the point of view of the system: They have just avoided enormous chaos over the coming years. The system is chaotic enough already, at a tipping point into an unclear future, with the huge shift in underlying economic factors. These factors include especially the various ways of shifting some economic risk from the payers and employers to the providers and the patients/customers.
Stabilizing: The Supreme Court finding stabilizes the future of the system. The affirmation, combined with the fact that a gridlocked polity in Washington is unlikely to come up with any major change or repeal of the law, and that the major parts of the law are self-funding, means that everyone now knows at least the general outline of what the rules are for the foreseeable future.
Permanent: The law is now likely permanent. To overturn it, you would need President Romney with a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and a majority in the House. The major parts of the law are self-funding and not dependent on Congressional outlays. By 2016, most people will have experienced the results of the law, and found its benefits far outweigh its costs. Business owners will find that it is not as burdensome as some have feared. It will have become obvious that the experience of the actual law is far different and more benign than the fears that have been drummed up about it politically. Once people experience its benefits for themselves, it will be very hard to gin up a campaign to take it away from them.