Guest Column | January 5, 2018

8 Virtual Health Delivery Predictions For 2018

By Dr. Lewis Levy, Teladoc, Inc.

Virtual Patient Visits

When we look at healthcare on a global scale, the issues of access, quality, and value are universal. In 2017, we saw more patients, employers, health systems, payers, and providers turn to virtual care for resolution to a growing range of health issues. With its ability to address a wide range of objectives for a diverse audience across healthcare, the virtual delivery of care is primed for even wider adoption and progress in 2018 as its potential is further realized. Here are eight predictions for virtual care delivery in 2018.

  1. Telehealth Grows Up, And It's Powerful

    Telehealth has already evolved from a sparse specialty offering into a robust, easily accessible and comprehensive engine; it changes the healthcare paradigm with the ability of robust and wide-ranging use cases, along with patients who now proactively seek out the convenient and trusted access. In 2018, the true power of virtual health delivery will be experienced by those systems that evolve from episodic care to include expansive clinical services ranging from expert second opinions for the most complicated medical conditions to the use of AI and predictive analytics to proactively identify patients in need of intervention. Rather than an isolated medical opinion or treatment option, these virtual offerings are integrated into the current healthcare ecosystem and provide access to the highest rated physicians, still providing patients with one single point of entry to the virtual care ecosystem.
  2. Payers Raise Expectations, Unlocking The Full Value Of Virtual Healthcare Delivery

As employers, health plans, and health systems face escalating pressures for cost containment, access, and patient satisfaction, organizations will look even more to their virtual care provider to deliver solutions that tackle these needs head-on. Significant advancements in technology, analytics and care delivery offer unprecedented value that can be derived from virtual care delivery systems in the form of financial savings, engagement and satisfaction, and improved health outcomes.

  1. Utilization Takes Center Stage As Digital Health Adoption Approaches Mainstream

As 90 percent of adults under the age of 65 have smartphones today, consumers are leveraging personal devices and remote services to take control of their healthcare journey at an increasing rate, embracing digital health in their everyday lives. In fact, research shows that two-thirds of Americans either have or are open to using mobile health apps to manage their health. From fitness trackers, to smart thermometers and virtual assistants, the prevalence of digital health among consumers has reached an inflection point. As consumer comfort with digital health gives way to reliance on these tools, telehealth will fill the care gap with far greater and more convenient access to quality care.

  1. Virtual Healthcare Delivery Tackles The Largest Cost Drivers — Finally

Diagnosing and treating chronic conditions and complex cases consumes roughly 84 percent of healthcare dollars in the U.S. alone. Through a powerful combination of analytics to pinpoint care needs, cognitive computing to ensure accuracy, and a single point of convenient access to leading specialists across the globe, virtual care delivery provides an innovative tool to address the escalating impact of chronic conditions and complex cases.

  1. Mental Health Is Part Of The Conversation. Organizations Take Action

    Mental health issues are costing American companies an estimated $23 billion per year in absenteeism. The good news is stigmas are being reduced and those in need are increasingly open to asking for help. Today’s organizations are now recognizing that more substantial behavioral health solutions can vastly improve their workplace health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that approximately 96.5 million Americans live in areas where there are shortages of mental health providers. Behavioral virtual care solves that, enabling employees to get help and be on the path to wellness sooner. In 2018, continued advances in the delivery of virtual care for behavioral health will help to overcome geographical and societal barriers to quality care.
  2. Health Systems Embrace Telehealth (At Scale)

As hospitals and health systems redefine the consumer experience to move toward value-based healthcare, telehealth has been identified as a key long-term solution for health systems to build their competitive market positioning and reduce financial risks. It’s no surprise that 76 percent of health systems have or will be implementing consumer telehealth in some capacity by December 2018.

  1. Data Security Is Front And Center, As Connected Care Accelerates

    As connected devices from one’s non-healthcare world increasingly make healthcare data portable – from smartphones storing medical records to announcements of health plan and technology companies partnering to drive behavior change – data security and integration have never been more important or high profile. The new year will see an even greater need for strong third-party validation of a virtual care provider’s ability to meet healthcare regulations and requirements for securing the sensitive protected healthcare information of its clients and members.
  2. Artificial Intelligence + Medical Excellence = High-Quality Care

The world is abuzz with renewed excitement about the potential artificial intelligence (AI) might have on healthcare transformation. Artificial intelligence presents a grand frontier for health care. Those who are able to truly succeed in this area and demonstrate improved outcomes with AI will be those who have identified how to successfully marry AI to medical excellence. Cognitive computing is only as good as the data that goes in and the experts that interpret what comes out. Without a foundation of medical quality, big data, analytics, and cognitive services fall short and could ultimately be misused in areas where mistakes are already far too prevalent. 

These eight predictions remind us that 2018 is set to be a landmark year in virtual care delivery, as the numbers are expected to see an even greater rise. In 2017, Teladoc completed more than 7,000 virtual health visits in a single day. To put this into perspective, 7,000 e-visits is more than the total number of patients seen in one day by the country’s five largest hospital emergency departments combined. As virtual care delivery grows, so do the expectations that surround it. The year ahead should help us realize a new level of value, access, utilization, security, and quality through virtual care delivery.

About The Author

Dr. Lewis Levy serves as Chief Medical Officer at Teladoc, Inc., the first and largest virtual care delivery solution. In addition to over 25 years of clinical experience, Dr. Levy also has an extensive teaching career as an instructor at Harvard Medical School.