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New Teladoc Health CFO: 'What's Not to Love About Being in Virtual Healthcare?'

By Jack O'Brien  
   July 24, 2019

Teladoc CFO Mala Murthy says the telemedicine industry is primed for growth due to "demographic tailwinds."

In late June, Teladoc Health filled its vacant CFO position by hiring Mala Murthy, former CFO of American Express' global commercial services segment.

Murthy replaced former CFO and COO Mark Hirschhorn, who resigned from Teladoc in December 2018 amidst sexual and financial misconduct allegations.

Murthy, who is making her first foray into healthcare, told HealthLeaders she was drawn to the role based on growth opportunities for telemedicine.

She discussed her goal of working with stakeholders to improve the telemedicine reimbursement model about two weeks before the Purchase, New York–based company releases its Q2 earnings report.

Related: Teladoc Q1 Revenues Top $128M, Losses Inch Up to $30M

This transcript has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

HealthLeaders: What interested you about joining Teladoc?

Murthy: What's not to love about being in virtual healthcare? It's a great time from the demographic tailwinds that [Teladoc has], the macroeconomic trends that we have, and this is an inflection point for the industry and for this space from a growth standpoint. As I talked to [CEO] Jason [Gorevic], I loved the culture and the tone he set with his leadership team.

HL: What do you see as the biggest opportunities, as well as some of the obstacles still in the way for telemedicine?

Murthy: First, I think there is a tremendously big, addressable market. Second, there are vast areas of our population that don't have the best access to healthcare today, which we can solve with virtual healthcare and telehealth. Third, if you look at demographically where we are headed, all the trends point to greater comfort in using things remotely, using devices. That also, I think, feeds into a growing adoption of telemedicine. If you look at our quarterly numbers, you're beginning to see the utilization rates expanding and the increase in membership. [These] are important barometers of the growing comfort with telemedicine.

Related: Teladoc CFO, COO of 6 Years Resigns

In terms of challenges, there is a whole institution of healthcare in the United States. There are nuances and details [about] reimbursement—as we've talked about with Medicare and Medicaid—that need to be ironed out. There are details that have to be worked through when it comes to the notion of who pays and how much they pay. Healthcare and healthcare use is intensely personal to the member. Just like any other form of healthcare, in telehealth, we have to make sure that the providers are delivering top-notch quality care. If you look at the areas that are of strategic importance for us, it is around the concept of quality. Making sure that, not just us, but all of the other players in the space, deliver excellence around member care.

HL: I see telemedicine as similar to the non-emergency medical transportation market, where you have a number of players splitting the pie while also trying to maximize a space that's on the rise in healthcare. How do compete for your share, while also focusing on expanding telemedicine?

Murthy: What you said is so true. There is space for many players done well and done right. [Teladoc] is firmly focused on how we grow and how we grow in the right way. This is a company that has been in this space for many years, so we have methodically gone about building the infrastructure, platform, and capabilities. And that's what we will want to continue to focus on. How do we focus on a few important, strategically important bets? How do we invest in them and how do we that in a disciplined way?

Related: Telemedicine Apps Are Thriving Because Working Moms Love the Convenience of Their Smartphones

HL: How does Teladoc intend on bringing skeptical patients into the telemedicine fold?

Murthy: This is human behavior and it's going to take time. We have an incredible marketing team within our company that spends a lot of time engaging with members. We are doing our part in terms of engagement programs, in various ways, to get people comfortable accessing care, not through a traditional brick-and-mortar experience. I was reading an analyst's report that showed some fascinating statistics around the incidence of [telemedicine] use by different age groups. What was so interesting to me was if you looked at people who are older, and the percentage they consume of telehealth care, it was higher than I had expected. My point is, don't write off the older generations just yet.

HL: Where are you putting your priorities in conversations with industry stakeholders, such as provider executives, or lawmakers at the federal and state level regarding reimbursement challenges?  

Murthy: Whether it's Teladoc or other players in the space, we will have to grapple with all of these issues over time. I will say specifically for us, if I go back and think about the priorities that Jason articulated in investor day, it was along a few vectors. It was focusing on certain member needs, such as mental health. We have been in acute care for a long time, and so there have been conversations more generally around opportunities beyond mental health, [such as] in the chronic care space. Second, how can we continue to be the leader in making sure that we are on all of the front doors to healthcare? The fact that we have a great presence in many channels is a competitive advantage for us from a scale perspective. So how do we continue to build on that? How do we continue to maintain our leadership on that? 

Jack O'Brien is the finance editor at HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

Photo credit: Photo credit: KONSKIE, POLAND - December 01, 2018: Teladoc Health logo displayed on smartphone - Image / Editorial credit: Piotr Swat /

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