As mHealthNews editor, Eric Wicklund, reported last November, the stage is set more than ever before to deliver medical and behavioral health services via telehealth. The need has existed for a very long time and today, the technology exists to bring these services into people’s homes. Payment reform is unblocking what has been a significant deterrence for telehealth services. Both private and public health insurance providers have been loosening their purse strings as they finally begin to realize the savings that are possible not only for them, but for the health industry and for patients. It’s not yet nirvana. There are still regulatory and state licensing issues that gum up the works, and rightly, there are concerns about privacy and security. However, I’m confident these remaining barriers will break down and that the day is near when telehealth is as much a part of our healthcare system as the clinician’s exam room, the therapist’s couch, or the hospital bed.
More than 16 years ago, I co-founded one of the early companies that attempted to bring patients and physicians together over the open internet. As you might imagine, the then available technology was still a bit too immature and unreliable to really do what we, and our patients needed it to do. Frankly, neither the health industry nor consumers were ready for something quite this disruptive. In the ensuring years the technology has matured. Computers and even mobile phones come with all that is needed to transmit and receive video, audio and data. Internet, and even cellular bandwidth is now fully capable of delivering the goods. Today, dozens of companies are offering a variety of medical and behavioral health telehealth services and the demand is growing.
I believe that telehealth is one of the greatest opportunities for solving the triple aim of lowering healthcare costs, providing better service and quality, and improving access to care. Whether we are addressing the shortage of primary care and mental health providers, the mal-distribution of specialty services, or rural communities without ready access to care; telehealth offers the potential scale and reach to provide many kinds of healthcare services as no other solution can.
Of course, when it comes to our health information nothing is more important than keeping that information private and secure. While there are a myriad of technological solutions that make it possible to transmit video, audio, text and data between healthcare providers and consumers, only recently am I seeing a path that will bring together the kind of federated, enterprise-level privacy and security requirements for fully scalable telehealth services. That is not to say that telehealth services being delivered today are not private or secure, but rather that some additional work is required to create even more seamless, reliable and affordable telehealth solutions for both consumers and healthcare providers.
In early June, it will be my honor to participate in a conference being organized by The Kennedy Forum. Patrick Kennedy, who has long been a champion for mental health and more equitable and affordable access to care, has invited me to speak along with other industry thought leaders as we seek to remove barriers to higher quality, more affordable and more accessible care. Top of mind for me will certainly be how contemporary, digital communication and collaboration technologies can be more widely deployed to meet these challenges and create new ways for patients to receive healthcare information and medical services, whenever and wherever they are needed.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft