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How Did 2018 Change the World of Telehealth?

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   December 27, 2018

Readers look back and share their perspectives about the biggest trends impacting the industry of virtual care.

Telehealth, or virtual care, is changing the way healthcare is delivered. The past year brought many significant changes to the industry including consolidation, a turning point in consumer acceptance, policy and legislative wins (and losses in some statewide initiatives), and changes in reimbursement.

HealthLeaders' innovation coverage over the last year touched on this topic numerous times. We highlighted those operating at the leading edge of this practice, and shared details about progress and challenges. It was the subject most written about under the banner of innovation, yet it has become such an essential resource to health systems that my fellow editors in clinical care, nursing, and strategy also produced articles on this practice. (There are links to some of our most popular stories at the end of this article).

Because virtual care holds the potential to disrupt and transform the way healthcare is delivered, representatives at hospitals and health systems are thirsty to hear the latest news and want to learn how leaders in the field are breaking new ground.

As 2018 draws to a close, we asked our readers—health systems and the companies that provide telehealth resources and services—for their opinions about the most significant telehealth trends or developments that occurred during 2018. They responded with great perspectives. In fact, there was so much input, this is the first of two articles we will publish on this topic before the end of the year. Also, we will launch our innovation coverage in 2019 with reader's predictions about the greatest trends to expect in the coming year. Here's a look at two of the biggest trends for 2018: Consumerism and consolidation.

1. Consumer Needs Are a Driving Force Behind Telehealth

Multiple representatives from health systems and telehealth providers said that the tide turned in 2018:

  • Ochsner Health System: "We believe the biggest change was in the shift towards consumerism. Our patients have come to expect access, convenience, and quality in their healthcare that is on par with ridesharing with Uber or shopping on Amazon. With direct-to-consumer telehealth models in urgent and specialty care, they are now gaining access to their healthcare services wherever and whenever is necessary. The community can now feel better connected to their health at home, work, school, vacation, or anywhere." David Houghton, MD, medical director, Ochsner CareConnect 360, Ochsner Health System
  • Zipnosis: "This year we saw a rapid consumerization of the healthcare industry. Take the latest iteration of the Apple Watch for example, with its health monitoring capabilities. There are now hundreds of choices for consumers when it comes to their health. This is making them increasingly picky, and the truth is, they can afford to be. As health systems struggle to keep up, deploying virtual health solutions can help by providing quick and convenient care that is just as high-quality as what [patients] would receive in person." —Jon Pearce, CEO and co-founder, Zipnosis
  • Doctor On Demand: "In 2018, consumer awareness around telehealth offerings increased, with adoption overall increasing by 261% in the past few years. With more consumers adopting virtual care, more payers got behind it as well. This is a big step in telehealth and helps us to continue to make high-quality care accessible to everyone, everywhere." —Hill Ferguson, CEO, Doctor On Demand

2. Consolidation Signals a Maturing Industry

Several health systems noted the industry is beginning to mature, as consolidation efforts begins to gain traction:

  • Barrow Neurological Institute: "The most significant trend in 2018 was consolidation. Telehealth is no longer something based in video alone, but rather a tool to care for people requiring tools for patient care including clinical workflows and data analytics. This requires more investment and larger organizations to build the right solutions. The last decade has been about choice—there were literally hundreds of telehealth vendors. No longer. Now healthcare systems can find a partner and get down to identifying a business strategy related to telehealth." —Alan Pitt, MD, professor, Barrow Neurological Institute; former chief medical officer, Avizia
  • Medical University of South Carolina: "2018 saw consolidation via corporate purchases among several key technology vendors in telehealth. The implications for healthcare organizations engaged in telehealth are unclear, but this will certainly be significant in the future." —Dee W. Ford, MD, MSCR, professor of medicine at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Program Director, MUSC Telehealth Center of Excellence
  • Northwell Health: "The beginning of industry consolidation was an important development, along with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services beginning to put its toe in the water to begin some level of reimbursement without the 'rural underserved' area restriction." —Martin E. Doerfler, MD, senior vice president, clinical strategy and development, Northwell Health

Keep your eye on these pages in the coming days for additional articles with reader input looking back on 2018, and looking ahead to the new year. We also invite you to check out some of our most popular telehealth articles from 2018:

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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