From the distant past of the 1990s until just a few years ago, many health technologists predicted that telemedicine would be an integral part of healthcare delivery.
Well, today, thanks to many factors surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine has finally made its way into the mainstream. And now that it’s being used so robustly across the country, the big question is: what’s next?
We spoke with a heavyweight in the world of telehealth, Dr. Roy Schoenberg, President and CEO of Amwell, one of the big players in telemedicine technology and services, to get his perspective. on how his predictions from last year turned out and where virtual care is headed in 2023.
Q You predicted last year that in 2022, we would see exciting advances in remote patient monitoring and automation powered by the patients who need it most. How did this prediction turn out?
A. Not only has remote patient monitoring and care automation technology become more advanced, but the use cases they power are rapidly evolving. Today we see applications of automation that go beyond imitating clinicians and are instead used to help patients manage the reality they face in the moments between visits when they are not not in front of clinicians.
It’s this area that I predict will grow most rapidly in the years to come, because it means technology can actually help clinicians be there for their patients more frequently and cost-effectively. As the industry struggles to cope with labor shortages and financial constraints, technology that can serve clinicians and patients, while being financially viable, will become ubiquitous.
Yet we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what RPMs and automated care programs can do to foster more patient-centered, value-driven care. We can transform lives and quality of life by extending the reach of clinicians through digital technology and empowering people to live their healthiest lives.
Q. You also predicted that in 2022 patients will interact with healthcare both physically and through technology – hybrid care. How did it end?
A. 2022 has been a year of progress in understanding that digital care is so much more than video conferencing. People are now accepting that digital care is not just about changing where care happens, but how care happens.
By thinking of it as a true delivery arm, you can see how you can manage patient conditions differently, you can reach customers differently, you can motivate patients to take a more active role in their healthcare – that’s a powerful reimagining of traditional models of care.
Hybrid models of care that combine physical and virtual interactions were the first iteration to see this understanding come to fruition; and we have seen these patterns accelerate significantly. The next phase concerns hybrid models of care that combine physical, virtual and automated interactions.
It is this type of digital care delivery that we strive to enable our clients to achieve through an integrated platform approach that enables a well-coordinated and seamless care experience across all settings.
Q. What two predictions do you have for 2023 on technological advances in telemedicine?
A. In 2023, we will continue to see the influence of digital health in the complete reinvention of how care is accessed and delivered. It’s a transformation that will be triggered not only by consumer demand for digital care, but also by clinician preference.
In fact, clinician-initiated digital care will far exceed virtual patient-initiated interactions in the future, with clinicians becoming the primary driver of usage. It’s a trend we’ve already started to see.
We have reached a point where doctors and nurses are prescribing virtual care. In medical offices, physician assistants triage patients for virtual encounters when how they are seen — in person or virtually — is less important than the need for quick access to care.
In an age where patients are surrounded by devices, we will not only gain a better understanding of potential use cases for RPM and automated care, but also a wealth of data around which approaches work best in specific circumstances. These discoveries will further advance digital care from a convenient “nice to have” feature to an integral aspect of the continuum of care.
Additionally, I predict that digital care will continue to shift from transactional to transformational. Virtual primary care is becoming ubiquitous, but virtual primary care possibilities are greatly expanded when tightly integrated with escalation pathways to create a more comprehensive care experience.
Discussions around the digital care trajectory will increasingly examine how to integrate virtual care and digital health more closely into the full patient journey. It will be a time of reinvigoration around the power of what is still a relatively new component of healing.
Some of our best learning around digital health will take place in this space where the immediate pressures of COVID-19 have passed, and where clinicians feel freer to imagine, “What next?
Q. What is your forecast for 2023 regarding public telemedicine policy?
A. One of the biggest challenges for the digital care industry continues to involve obtaining state licensing. It is clear that we need to enable healthcare to be delivered across the country through technology – the internet does not stop at state borders.
What’s less clear, however, is who on Capitol Hill will be the one to say, “We have to find another way.” Change must occur in partnership with medical boards which will continue to play an important role in enabling the safe practice of medicine. It is inevitable that this will be the biggest war we will see unfold in the next few years and it will have a huge impact on the future of care delivery.
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