The newest trends in telehealth in 2020 Insight Article Patient Care Technology HIT Regulations Sign in to save Joel E. Barthelemy Virtual care is a change agent. While complaints about healthcare costs and provider burnout abound in the industry, few innovations have prompted such sweeping and successful change as telehealth services. According to Mordor Intelligence, the telemedicine market will be worth more than $66 billion globally by 2021.1 However, telehealth doesn’t just change care delivery; it’s continuing to evolve. As healthcare providers have moved from convenience consults to adopt more evidence-based solutions, clinicians have been able to remotely access patients’ medical records and collaborate with other providers for more accurate diagnoses and informed care plans. Hospitals and practices are harnessing technology to improve clinical outcomes. This in turn has fueled more sophisticated technology, prompting healthcare leaders to learn how to fully maximize virtual care’s potential. As the dual currents of provider demand and telemedicine ingenuity come together, here are the latest trends and developments changing the virtual landscape in 2020. Putting the medicine back in telemedicine Skyrocketing adoption. Providers want a solution to administrative burdens, barriers to care and lack of visibility into patients’ healthcare stories. Telehealth offers cost savings, higher productivity, less “windshield time” driving between locations, better work-life balance and other benefits — all of which accelerate adoption. Retail clinics at Walmart, CVS and Walgreens already offer telehealth services to satisfy patient demand. In turn, major healthcare networks are responding to pressure to increase telehealth reimbursement.2 Insourcing over outsourcing. Balancing patient demands, provider workloads and hospital space has driven some healthcare organizations to outsource to teleclinicians who may not know their care protocols. Most have learned the drawbacks of this practice the hard way. Now they’re insourcing to take advantage of their internal capacity using agnostic telemedicine solutions. Without building new inpatient units or hiring staff specialists for minimal clinical need, these hospitals can provide stroke triage, ICU treatment and other specialty care. In turn, they preserve their protocols and retain revenue while offering an exceptional patient experience. Expanding direct-to-consumer (DTC) models. DTC telemedicine once meant a patient contacting an app for a video call with a doctor they didn’t know. Today, companies such as CVS and Amazon have branched into home delivery of prescriptions and home-use medical devices, while digital assistants such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa are being used for chronic disease management and care coordination.3 Expect to see DTC models become more complex but also more clinically valuable, which could relegate video call apps to the dustbin. Vertical growth. We’ll see virtual health grow vertically rather than horizontally this year. As hospitals have grown to depend on telehealth for delivering advanced care, they request new features and capabilities from their vendors to address even more sophisticated provider needs. That includes connective tools for advanced specialty treatment — cardiology, dermatology, endocrinology, infectious disease, neurosurgery, obstetrics and rheumatology, just to name a few — so they can deliver integrated care as an organization. Hospital to home. To reduce readmission rates, providers increasingly use telehealth to optimize patient transitions after discharge from a hospital stay. Collaborating with home health nurses, checking medication adherence and conducting timely follow-up appointments can ensure patients get the support and resources they need. Involving caregivers in virtual visits can also help providers better understand their patients’ recovery and know when a medication change or other intervention can get a patient back on track. Teleparamedicine. Emergency responders are on the front lines of saving lives, and now top hospitals are using telehealth to connect paramedics to intensivists, neurologists or cardiologists for fast, expert care. With medical events such as a stroke or heart attack, immediate intervention can make the difference between life or death or a partial or full recovery. Teleparamedicine helps connect patients and the paramedics caring for them to top specialists before the patients are loaded into an ambulance. Paramedics also can determine if a lower-acuity destination may be more appropriate for an individual’s needs, thus lowering costs and reducing avoidable transports. Remote patient monitoring (RPM). One of the biggest healthcare directives in recent years has been the push to reduce hospitalizations and control chronic disease. But patients’ home lives often have been a blind spot for their doctors until now. More physicians are using RPM to monitor patients at home after surgery to ensure their recovery is on track and not leading back to the hospital. New CMS reimbursement laws also encourage physicians to consistently monitor their patients who have heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or other chronic conditions, helping them adhere to care plans and stay out of the hospital.4 Tighter cybersecurity. Hospitals and healthcare networks are top targets for cybercriminals.5 To avoid fines for potential HIPAA violations, stolen data and brand embarrassment, leaders demand virtual platforms that have been built with security in mind. The most successful telehealth solutions must encrypt confidential data and meet state, federal and international compliance standards and privacy regulations, in addition to offering capabilities to retain and restore data after an attack or loss of power. Dr. A.I. In the hunt for ways to inject artificial intelligence (A.I.) into healthcare technologies, telehealth leaders are creating tools that translate data into meaningful medical insights..6 Providers will be better able to predict future outcomes, such as the likelihood of having cancer, a stroke, a mobility disorder or a cardiac event. In turn, clinicians will be able to craft early and accurate treatment plans when they can do the most good. A sign of healthier things to come Healthcare will always have challenges to solve. Given the thirst for new solutions and technologies, it’s a safe bet that telehealth may be used in surprising ways in the years to come. For now, we can look forward to immediate developments that hold the promise of smarter clinical medicine and stronger patient outcomes. Notes Mordor Intelligence. Telemedicine market - growth, trends, and forecast (2019 - 2024). Available from: https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/global-telemedicine-market-industry. Japsen B. “As CVS rolls out health hubs, Walmart prepares clinic expansion.” Forbes, Sept. 3, 2019. Available from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2019/09/03/as-cvs-rolls-out-health-hubs-walmart-prepares-clinic-expansion/#1c069c9b61b2. Bora P. “Alexa in healthcare: 17 real use cases you should know about.” Digital Authority Partners. Available from: https://www.digitalauthority.me/resources/alexa-in-healthcare. Care Innovations. “2019 CMS fee schedule expands reimbursement for remote care.” Available from: https://news.careinnovations.com/blog/2019-cms-fee-schedule-expands-reimbursement-for-remote-care. Koh D. “Healthcare cybersecurity – the impact of AI, IoT-related threats and recommended approaches.” HealthcareITNews, Sept. 18, 2019. Available from: https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/asia-pacific/healthcare-cybersecurity-impact-ai-iot-related-threats-and-recommended-approaches. Wicklund E. “AI Group sees technology’s potential in telehealth, mHealth programs.” mHealthIntelligence, May 17, 2019. Available from: https://www.mhealthintelligence.com/news/ai-group-sees-technologys-potential-in-telehealth-mhealth-programs.