New mobile health innovations can reduce healthcare expenses
DALLAS – The latest in mobile health innovations – from smartphone apps to telehealth tools – might at first be considered in the vein of improving clinical outcomes. But providers, payers and vendors will quickly point out that they can save the healthcare system a lot of money, too.
Faced with paying for an endless steam of non-urgent visits to the doctor or, worse, the emergency room, employers and health plans are looking to telemedicine for an easier way to connect a stuffy nose, sprained ankle or upset stomach to the doctor. Those connections are now being made online or through phone calls engineered by companies like Teladoc, Stat Health Services and American Well.
“There’s a huge market out there for very convenient and timely access to doctors,” said Jason Gorevic, president and CEO of Dallas-based Teladoc, which began by offering simple, phone-based consults with a doctor and is now branching into online solutions, virtual onsite clinics (making use of kiosks) and physician-facing portals.
“Every time an employee goes to the ER, the employer is paying for it,” said Alan Roga. MD, of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Stat Health, which focuses its business on non-critical visits that are usually handled in emergency rooms but could just as easily be handled in an online visit. “This gives them an alternative, while also improving ER throughput and efficiency.”
Teladoc, which has a pilot program in place with Aetna for its fully insured medical plans in Texas and Florida, offers a 24-hour-a day service, available by phone or online, for as much as $38. A physician responds to a request within 30 minutes, offering a diagnosis, recommending treatment and any prescriptions needed, coordinating follow-up care with the patient’s primary care provider and entering the information into the patient’s electronic medical record.
According to Gorevic, 91 percent of all encounters handled by Teladoc physicians are resolved without the need for follow-up care.
“That’s a strong number in light of the pressure on primary care providers,” he said. In addition, he said, hospitals are seeing emergency room use rise 9 percent even as they’re shutting down ER units and farming the business out to urgent care clinics.
The key to the success of this segment of healthcare may very well lie in the ability to generate revenues not only for the vendor, but for the provider.
Roga says Stat Health’s physicians also benefit in being able to supplement their practice- or hospital-based business with after-hours services.
Gorevic also sees an opportunity for growth in physician-facing services. As the healthcare landscape changes, he said, practices looking to expand their business need to look beyond the office walls or normal office hours.
That’s an avenue being explored by American Well, the Boston-based company that has been offering online consults for several years. Earlier this year the company launched Online Care for Providers, a platform that enables physicians to incorporate telehealth services into their daily patient care operations.
“Healthcare is in the midst of unprecedented transformation,” said Roy Schoenberg, MD, American Well’s CEO. “With Online Care For Providers, American Well is the first to bring a complete telehealth solution into the hands of every healthcare professional.”
“Online Care For Providers is a groundbreaking tool to support providers in growing and modernizing their practices,” he added. “It also provides a strong foundation for those practices preparing for accountable care contracts.”
According to Gorevic, by establishing a telehealth platform, physicians stand to keep as much as 90 cents out of every $1 spent on healthcare by the consumer, as opposed to the industry estimate of roughly 20 cents through an office-based visit.
Finances are also part of the ever-growing mobile medical app field, with health plans and payers offering their own mobile gateways to patient-facing portals, websites and available local providers. Some vendors are rolling out apps that enable patients and physicians to use smartphones to compare costs, pay bills and even apply for healthcare-focused loans.
San Diego-based CSI Financial Services recently rolled out an iPhone and iPad app that connects users to the company’s ClearBalance program, which is designed to enable hospital administrators and patients to arrange no-interest or low-interest loans for qualified patients and establish monthly payment plans.
“Our clients have found that offering a loan program can measurably improve patient satisfaction and we further believe a core component is that the qualification process must be patient-friendly,” said Bruce Weintraub, CSI’s vice president of marketing. “Our program is specifically designed to maximize patient satisfaction.”