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6 Ways Telehealth Made Progress in 2018

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   December 31, 2018

Readers weigh in about the most significant advances in virtual care.

2018 may have marked a turning point in the way telehealth services are utilized and perceived. With significant progress in consumer acceptance, reimbursement, and legislation, many health systems report that telehealth has moved from a "nice to have" service to an essential component of the way healthcare is delivered.

We asked our readers to share the top trends they witnessed over the past year. Representatives from health systems and the companies that provide telehealth resources and services responded enthusiastically. This posting is a continuation of an article posted on December 28: How Did 2018 Change the World of Telehealth?

Did your health system gain traction in virtual care over the past year? What trends may impact the way you move forward? Here are six ways our readers think the practice of telehealth made progress in 2018:

1. Collaboration Between Bedside and Virtual Care Teams Paved the Way for Seamless Care

Mercy Virtual: "Over the last year we saw the concept of virtual medicine and a revolutionary new model of care become a reality as bedside clinical teams and virtual clinical teams advanced from working in parallel paths to closing the loop and truly collaborating in delivering a seamless continuum of care. This collaboration is critical to continuing to drive positive outcomes as we migrate from inpatient care to treating patients in the ambulatory setting as well." —Gavin Helton, MD, president, Mercy Virtual, Clinical Integration

2. Legislation Supported the Expansion of Telehealth Services

InSync: "In 2018, the most significant telehealth trend was the expansion of access to care to multiple patient demographics fueled by the telehealth-positive legislation. We see a huge opportunity for doctors to embrace this valuable and innovative tool, which will also help them collaborate more easily with one another. Collaboration is the cornerstone for value-based care, so having the right arsenal of technologies will only become more important.” —Charles Hutchinson, chief financial officer, InSync Healthcare Solutions

Telehealth Suite: "As noted in the fiscal year 2019 CMS Physicians Fee Schedule and in HR-6, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (which became Public Law 115-271 on October 24, 2018) has significant telehealth and remote patient monitoring provisions allowing for more effective and efficient treatment of patients affected by the opioid epidemic. Earlier this year, a significant spotlight illuminated telehealth through the passing of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 on February 9, 2018, which has opened up telehealth payment for services delivered in the context of home dialysis, ACOs, Medicare Advantage, and for acute stroke." —Thomson Boyd, MD, medical director, Telehealth Suite

3. Research Confirmed the Value of Telehealth; AI Emerged as a Valuable Tool

MDLIVE: The most significant telehealth trend of 2018 was "recognition of the return on investment and that telehealth is ideally positioned to disrupt the healthcare industry as large-scale studies started emerging showing significant reduced cost, paired with great satisfaction and quality. Additionally, artificial intelligence emerged as a valuable tool for telehealth platforms." —Rich Berner, CEO, MDLIVE

4. Retail Player Broke Into the Telehealth Market, Possibly Spurring Additional Innovation

American Telemedicine Association: "The acquisition of GreatCall by Best Buy signals a few important things. First, we have another retail player entering health. Best Buy’s Geek Squad represents a great customer experience. Just wait until they outfit your home à la GreatCall, enabling aging in place. At ATA, [the American Telemedicine Association] we know the exam room of the future will be your home, thanks to the broad support of telehealth." —Ann Mond Johnson, CEO, American Telemedicine Association

5. Growth of Virtual Care for Behavioral Health Enhanced the Mind-Body Connection

Teladoc Health: "In 2018 we saw significant growth in the use of virtual care for behavioral health. To expand on that, it was also the ability to treat mind and body with the same platform and entry point for coordinated and better outcomes. Behavioral health has taken the global conversation by storm as positive strides have been made related to reduce stigma, broaden access to care, and help people navigate the system for expert reviews of treatment plans and diagnoses. Integrated virtual care is also breaking new ground by better connecting behavioral health with physical health at the point of care." —Lewis Levy, MD, FACP, chief medical officer, Teladoc Health

6. The Line Between Physical and Virtual Care Began to Blur

American Well: "Throughout 2018, we witnessed across-the-board advances in the world of telemedicine. Favorable shifts in state and federal policies fueled massive growth for commercial and government reimbursement for telehealth and, admittedly, there was also growing maturity in the understanding of how to blend technologies into the way we consume and deliver care.

"The most significant telehealth trend from 2018 is that our definition of the term “telehealth” changed, and we saw the use cases for it shift too. At the ground level, where care actually happens, we saw physicians and patients use telehealth to care for pretty much everything—cancer, behavioral health, surgical recovery, substance abuse, home dialysis and more. These use cases cover the full spectrum of care from acute to post-acute and urgent to managing healthy lifestyles.

"We, as an industry, began to accept that, like many other parts of our lives—how we buy things, how we interact, how we maintain relationships—the intertwining of physical and digital is inevitable. We began to understand and embrace that modern healthcare has two arms, and they will continue to coexist and support each other in the years to come. Physical care and digital care will be used safely and in conjunction to make our healthcare experience better, more humane, and less painful." —Roy Schoenberg, MD, MPH, CEO, American Well

Learn More

Keep your eyes on these pages in the coming days for a glimpse into the new year when we post additional readers' predictions about the greatest telehealth trends to expect in 2019. We also invite you to check out some of our 2018 articles on this topic, which include a look at how some healthcare systems are breaking new ground in the realm of virtual care:

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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