Imagine three months from now when the predicted ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 is expected to resurge and we’re still without a vaccine. Telehealth has become the entry-point to care, widely adopted by patients both young and old. Now, when an elderly diabetic patient wakes up in the middle of the night with a dull ache on her left side and back, she doesn’t ignore the symptom, like she may have during the first COVID outbreak. Instead, she logs online to her local hospital’s website from a cell phone and accesses a simple questionnaire to report her health history and presenting symptoms. The whole process takes just a couple of minutes and she immediately hears back from her health provider with the suggestion to schedule an in-person appointment for further testing to rule out any kidney issues.
This patient doesn’t become one of the nearly 50% of Americans who delayed care during the initial COVID pandemic. She was able to access care without having to download an application or wait to schedule a virtual appointment during normal business hours. She receives virtual asynchronous care on-demand, coordinated to sync with her electronic health record. The next day, she receives a follow-up call from her primary care doctor to ensure her symptoms were alleviated with the over-the-counter pain medication she was prescribed.
I applaud the article written by Paul Grundy, MD, and Ken Terry, “Primary Care Practices Need Help to Survive the COVID-19 Pandemic,” in which they called on Congress to make health policy decisions that will provide immediate financial relief for primary care practices. We must mitigate the real risk we face: the highly possible shutdown of our healthcare system. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. healthcare system has taken an enormous financial hit and primary care practices have been especially affected and are struggling to survive. As the authors point out, telehealth has taken the spotlight to fill the acute need for an influx of patients needing to access care under social distancing practices. Telehealth can increase access to care, relieve provider burden, reduce costs to systems, and improve patient outcomes. However, this is only possible with on-demand telehealth, or asynchronous care.
Today on Health in 2 Point 00, Jess and I talk about Oscar raising $225 million, Evidation Health raising $45 million doing digital clinical trials, Lululemon buying fitness startup Mirror for $500 million, Calibrate raising a $5.1 million seed round bringing telehealth to weight loss and metabolic health, at-home urine analysis startup Healthy.io buying Inui Health for $9 million, and Airvet raising $14 million for veterinary telemedicine. —Matthew Holt
With about one month left on the existing 90-day Public Health Emergency that’s eased regulations and improved reimbursement to help make telehealth, remote monitoring, and other virtual care services easier for providers to implement and patients to use, health tech companies across the US are wondering what it will take to make these changes permanent. One of digital health’s few ‘DC Insiders,’ Livongo Health’s VP of Government Affairs, Leslie Krigstein, gets us up-to-speed on what’s happening on Capitol Hill and what we can expect moving forward. What changes will (literally) require an Act of Congress? And what can be handled by HHS and CMS? From codes and co-pays to e-visits and licensing, Leslie breaks it down and tells us whether or not we can continue to expect a ‘health tech-friendly’ agenda in Washington DC.
Telehealth has been a lifeline for many doctors and patients during the pandemic, and the decisions of CMS and many private payers to cover telehealth visits—in some cases, at full parity with in-person visits–has helped physician practices stave off bankruptcy. Assuming that these policies remain in effect after the pandemic, I agree with the commentators who assert that telemedicine will become a much larger part of healthcare.
Nevertheless, what that means is still far from clear. To begin with, telehealth visits may be adequate for some purposes but not for others. Historically, the technology has been used mostly for diagnosing and treating minor acute problems. Physicians were generally reluctant to take on more complex cases or treat chronic conditions without seeing patients in person.
Pre-pandemic, most telehealth encounters took place between patients and doctors who had never treated them before, using services such as Teladoc, American Well and Doctor on Demand that usually didn’t communicate with the patients’ personal doctors. Some larger physician groups had begun to use the technology with their own patients; but even in those groups, certain doctors were often assigned to conduct virtual visits with patients who were not necessarily their own.
Clearly, the latter barrier has been broken down, with nearly half of U.S. physicians in an April survey saying they were using telemedicine in patient care. While it’s unclear what kinds of cases these doctors are diagnosing and treating, it’s likely that the scope of practice for telehealth has been expanded to include some chronic disease care.
The main barrier to this expansion is that, in telehealth encounters, physicians don’t necessarily have the data they need to make sound medical decisions. To manage hypertension, for instance, the physician needs to be able to measure a patient’s blood pressure. If the patient has a digital blood pressure cuff at home, that data can be transmitted to a physician’s office; in fact, a smartphone app could show the trend of the patient’s hypertension over time. Right now, however, only a small fraction of patients have this kind of remote monitoring equipment.
The shift in thinking required to go to a “virtual first” healthcare system may not be as unique to the health industry as we think. Teladoc Health’s new Chief Engagement Officer, Stephany Verstraete, got her start at Match.com — and explains the parallels she sees between the mainstream adoption of telehealth and what she experienced introducing online dating to the masses. Think about it: overcoming skepticism, addressing privacy concerns, and what Stephany says is most important, changing an ingrained behavior — are all challenges currently being faced by virtual care co’s. It’s not a bad idea to flirt with as we talk bigger trends in telehealth engagement.
Filmed at J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, January 2020.
It was a seminal moment in virtual care as Teladoc Health acquired Intouch Health for $600 million, effectively taking its mostly direct-to-consumer telehealth platform directly into more than 2,500 care providers — or, as they say, “from hospital to home.” We caught up with InTouch Health’s CEO, Joe DeVivo, to hear his thoughts on the deal, including what it means for the further advancement of virtual care and for the digital health industry at-large.
Filmed at J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, January 2020
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I guess he warned us that Teladoc was feeling ‘A-quisitive’ — the question now is are they done? A few weeks ago I spoke with Jason Gorevic, Teladoc’s CEO at the new HLTH Conference about consolidation in the telehealth space and what’s next for the virtual care giant.
Although he was mum on the company’s $352M mega-buy of Advance Medical, there was a shopping list of other solutions that seem to have caught Teladoc’s eye — everything from tech that turns Alexa into a telemed access point to NLP plug-ins and any number of shiny devices that make remote monitoring easier, less expensive, and more effective.
Perhaps an indicator of where they’ll look next as they continue to sweep up market share? Listen in on some of the details about their CVS partnership (VIRTUAL Minute Clinic, anyone?) and the VERY interesting talks he’s having with the country’s largest payers on redefining benefit designs to push virtual care first.