Dec 15 2017
Patient-Centered Care

Telemedicine Program Executives Must Think Strategy First, Technology Second

More focused telemedicine initiatives see greater success.

Shiny sells, especially during the holidays. Think silver bells, twinkling lights, glitter.

Telehealth is shiny, and it’s flying off the shelves. More than 80 percent of healthcare executives planned to invest in telehealth this year, and analysts predict the industry’s 30 percent annual growth rate will create a $12 billion market by 2022.

Unfortunately, telehealth is too often all sparkle, no substance. While the number of offerings has skyrocketed, telehealth still drives only a small fraction of healthcare interactions; estimates range from 1 percent among Medicare beneficiaries to 3 percent among those privately insured.

Healthcare executives may bemoan consumers’ sluggish adoption, but they hold all the cards. The supply is clearly there. The demand is, too. A recent survey indicates that three out of four consumers would see a doctor virtually. Presumably, even more would be open to lower-touch telehealth initiatives, such as remote health coaching. The missing link, then, are strategies to acquire quality technology, test groundbreaking concepts, pilot novel programs and guide consumers toward promising options.

Build Adoption with Simple Virtual Telemedicine Programs

When healthcare executives envision real-time individualized care, it’s easy to view telehealth as the panacea, but technology for technology’s sake isn’t a sustainable strategy, and it won’t do anything to address the increasing complexity of a highly regulated and increasingly costly enterprise.

It’s time to stop romanticizing telehealth and start letting strategy dictate action.

That may mean starting small. The healthcare industry is complex, and executives are prone to overthinking both challenges and possible solutions. Rather than targeting a discrete problem with a single revolutionary device, app or platform, many attempt to do it all. This overreach leads to programs that are bulky, expensive and late.

The simple solution is often the best solution.

Find Your Niche for Effective Telehealth

It may also mean relinquishing some control over the process or product.

Telehealth is nuanced, and there are thousands of players ranging from game-changing startups to multibillion-dollar hospital networks. Failed telehealth initiatives often occur when they are built rather than being bought, licensed or accessed via partnership. There’s a reason Delta doesn’t build engines. Telehealth executives must recognize their niche, acknowledge their gaps and invite outside experts into partnerships that advance the cause.

Telehealth strategies don’t inoculate companies against failure. Quite the opposite. Trial and often error, are key facets of an effective strategy. Effective strategies enable companies to learn from failure, rethink approaches and try again.

An example of this is Centene, a Fortune 100 Fastest-Growing Company serving more than 12 million members, primarily through its 28 state Medicaid and Medicare programs. With telehealth initiatives being spearheaded by multiple leaders crossing several business lines, Centene’s Chief Strategy Officer Jesse Hunter and Chief Medical Officer Ken Yamaguchi decided to focus 2018 telehealth investments and resources on a single chronic disease: diabetes.

Poor disease management among Medicaid patients leads to significant, avoidable morbidity.

Given Centene’s niche and the fact that medical costs for people with diabetes are, on average, 2.3 times higher than the general population, the company's decision has a strategic ring to it. Accordingly, all telehealth initiatives must both address diabetes and connect to the company’s broader mission statement. Centene plans to start small, with simple telehealth solutions for diabetics focused on user adoption, compliance and measurable health outcomes.

All recent eyes, though, are on the shiny CVS-Aetna deal.

In discussing his company’s record-breaking deal, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini pointed to telehealth as a key part of the strategy. Responding to the merger and other market movement that holds promise for telehealth, CNBC health and technology reporter Christina Farr acknowledged that, “adoption remains a challenge.”

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