Digital Classroom

The Future of Healthcare is Now

September 2016

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act and signed it into law six and a half years ago, and although it included a number of controversial elements, one of the act’s many goals was to use technology to address a shortage of primary care physicians and an increased demand for medical care.

By supporting and facilitating remote patient care, technology allows health practitioners to “extend the practice to the patient.” Improved fiber-optic lines and faster broadband connectivity allow telehealth to supplement face-to-face care—particularly in rural or urban areas that lack the physicians to meet the demands of an often aging patient population—with the added benefit of reducing healthcare’s staggering costs.

Concerns such as overcoming security challenges as required by HIPAA, scaling technology to make it affordable, and ensuring interoperability between systems and networks initially plagued telehealth and its implementation. But telehealth is starting to have a positive impact on both healthcare providers and the patients who need care. As technology companies address security and interoperability issues, the goal is to ensure that health organizations can obtain affordable and reliable Internet service with sufficient bandwidth to provide telehealth services.

I recently spoke with Janae Sharp of about the current state of telehealth, as well as its future. See what she has to say about the important developments in healthcare.

What is your background with telehealth?

I’ve been involved with the team and healthcare technology reporting. I was also involved with a startup for a telehealth platform for innovative patient care delivery as a patient engagement expert. Seeking out the next “Uber for healthcare” as well as hearing about innovative provider training services has been great, and I’m passionate about how futurists and entrepreneurs are able to help innovate and improve patient outcomes. I talk to companies and look for interesting innovations in healthcare IT. One of the biggest things on our radar is telehealth, so I get to talk to people with new ideas and contributions every day.

Why is telehealth so important in our current healthcare climate?

One of the things I believe most strongly is to meet people where they are. Start by finding out what they know. Telehealth helps us meet patients online where they go for help. When patients go online for healthcare information, we can connect them to clinically appropriate care.

What are some challenges related to telehealth?

Cost of implementation for some organizations is difficult. Individual companies don’t always integrate, and the cost of implementation can be prohibitive. Technology and access to technology is necessary, payor willingness is necessary, and state laws have a huge impact.

What will telehealth look like in three to five years?

Telehealth is one of the biggest areas of growth in healthcare. We still haven’t had a national breakthrough for telehealth, but I expect it in the next five years. I work with, and one of our recent pieces highlighted a presentation by Nathaniel Lacktman, a healthcare attorney and a national leader in healthcare compliance. “If we had telehealth insurance coverage and payment parity, then telehealth services would go through the roof,” he said. We will see that telehealth explosion in the next three to five years.

What role does the Internet and bandwidth play in telehealth, and why is it important?

Access to telemedicine goes hand and hand with Internet access. In areas with little or no Internet coverage, patients won’t have the same access to services. The Internet is part of the delivery mechanism for telehealth.

How does policy affect telehealth implementation?

Policy is a double-edged sword with telehealth implementation. Telemedicine parity laws that allow payors to cover specific types of telemedicine will be key in telemedicine effectiveness and growth. A new Minnesota law allows for provider repayment at the same rate as some in-person services. Always follow the money. Policy will regulate the ability to get payment for telehealth, and maybe even provide for implementation costs.

What’s the most important thing to know about telehealth?

The most important thing to know about telehealth is that it can be part of the overall plan to improve patient outcomes. Patients are ready for this and willing to get information through telehealth. They are already online. It will be part of the future of medicine.

Thanks again to Janae Sharp (@coherencemed on Twitter) for her time and insights. Tweet us at @TWCBusiness to continue the telehealth conversation—we’d love to hear from you.

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Matthew Foosaner

Senior Director, Vertical Programs
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