We’ve probably all heard the announcements by airline pilots warning that “we might encounter some turbulence” on the flight ahead. For the hospital industry—at least as far as the physician shortage is concerned—the announcements are long since over. We’re flying directly through the turbulence as we enter 2020, and it’s only going to get bumpier in the decade ahead.
Businesses understand today that customers want more than one way to interact with them. Ordering products online. Checking reviews on mobile apps. Joining company communities on social media. 2019 saw healthcare’s evolution in the same multi-channel direction. No longer is it a single visit to the doctor or hospital. Today’s healthcare is a series of interactions with multiple access points or “front doors,” some personal, some digital—outpatient clinic visits, email conversations with doctors or clinical staff, online checking of lab results or Q&As on a patient portal, virtual doctor visits. It was the new model of healthcare in 2019.
At first glance, one might think that telemedicine wouldn’t be the best medium for diagnosing and treating patients with infectious diseases (IDs). There is, after all, nothing to “listen to” in conditions of sepsis, infected wounds from diabetes or other ailments, meningitis, osteomyelitis, methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA) or other infections—nothing a stethoscope on a videoconferencing cart can pick up from the sound of a patient’s heartbeat or stomach. But look again.
Telemedicine is growing—around the world and here at home. A report released last year projected the global telehealth market would grow at a 13-percent compound annual growth rate, reaching $19.5 billion by 2025. That’s more than triple the $6 billion market value in 2016.
I’ve written frequently in previous blog posts about our physicians’ “webside manner”—their skills in communicating with patients, families and hospital clinical staff. They are very good at making everyone comfortable with the telemedicine environment. But they don’t go it alone. They are partners with hospital clinical staff who serve as their hands when consulting with, diagnosing, and treating patients.
We’ve written frequently about the growing acceptance of telemedicine by hospital clinical staff, patients and their families. Still, we do encounter naysayers along the way.
It was abundantly clear in 2018 that there is a new reality in U.S. inpatient care. As I wrote in my year-end blog last month, most hospitals across the country have embraced the value equation telemedicine offers. No longer viewed as a novelty, telemedicine will continue to gain ground in hospitals in 2019—both in general hospitalist services and in a wider range of specialty offerings.
Telemedicine is a rewarding field to be in for many reasons. We make healthcare easier to access for patients and their families. We’re saving doctors from burnout. We help hospitals find a sustainable solution to complex challenges. It’s extremely gratifying to be part of an industry that does so much good. Take, for example, the recent upsurge in the number of rural county hospital leaders who raise legitimate concerns about patient transfers and don’t know how to stop the outflow, or “outmigration” as we’ve heard it referred to.
With our history of providing telemedicine services to hospitals for nearly a decade, it’s interesting to see the change in the industry, the growing acceptance of telemedicine by patients, providers and—slowly but surely—payers. It’s also interesting to observe the changes in how we talk about what we do. Ten years ago, we spent much of our time talking with hospital executives about why they needed us. Today, it’s more a question of when.
You’ve probably seen and heard the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” used interchangeably these days, both online and in conversation. It doesn’t matter whether the source is a physician or other healthcare professional or Jane or John Doe. The line between these terms is blurring. Nonetheless, there is a distinction.