Telehealth: Hype or real market need?

KEY TAKEAWAY: If you follow social media you would think that telehealth is going to revolutionize healthcare but the reality is very much different.  Yes, there are some instances where telehealth can be used to help patients, but there are also too many instances where telehealth could harm patients and widen the physician-patient relationship.

There are plenty of times when going to see your doctor is more trouble than it’s worth.  When you have a bad cold or flu, for example, you want to stay indoors not travel to your doctor’s office where the possibility is real that you could spread your germs and make your condition worse.  However, there are some nagging health problems that should be evaluated by a HCP in person not on a computer screen.

In a way physicians have led the telehealth charge by treating patients as just numbers and treating conditions rather than people.  A lot of patients see doctors as nothing more than someone to write an Rx rather than a trusted HCP partner.

Last summer our group did extensive research with patients around mobile and telehealth and while some said they would like the opportunity to get treatment for pesky health problems most said that they would prefer a “better relationship with their doctor”.  So, let’s be honest here, the reason you’re seeing so much around telehealth and mobile health is that here are a lot of startups trying to break through to venture capital gold mines.  However, many challenges await organizations looking to expand their telehealth and mobile health investments.  Just over 70 percent of respondents said that inadequate coverage and payments, licensure, and resistance to change are the most likely to hinder the growth of telehealth as a whole.

Could pharma, in the near future, offer links directly with telehealth physicians to drive Rx’s?  It’s possible and maybe practical for some health conditions like the flu or allergies, but can you imagine the possibilities of someone being misdiagnosed and then suing their telehealth physician?

Pharma needs to think outside the box which in part means that they should be talking NOW about where healthcare is headed from a patients POV.  While online searches for health are increasing (20% of all searches), patients are often left confused and bewildered by the depth and content of online health information.  Yes, telehealth could help some patients, but what’s really needed is a personal approach to treat the whole person, not just conditions that can be fixed with an Rx.