The days of having to physically visit a doctor’s office to get medical care are quickly becoming numbered. Originally started as a way to reach rural residents and provide greater access to care, telemedicine is now on pace to revolutionize how patients receive care. Plus, with the emergence of video technology coupled with the growing on-demand nature of the consumer experience, savvy healthcare providers need to be looking now to offer more virtual appointment options to stay competitive in the market. Here are the top three things you need to know about the exploding telemedicine trend:
A recent Pew Research study found that patients living in rural areas live, on average, 10.5 miles from the closest hospital, nearly twice as far as patients living in urban areas.1 When you factor in the lack of transportation and higher than average poverty rates, there is a large subset of the country that traditionally have been left out of the healthcare system. However, with the growing use of telemedicine options, rural residents can get the immediate medical assistance they need, without having to leave their home. This convenience factor is not only beneficial for rural America. Being able to contact a licensed physician around the clock and for far less than having to visit the doctor, is what has made telemedicine a go-to for all patients, especially those without medical insurance.
Without the overhead of a physical location, virtual health appointments save the patient money as well as the healthcare practice. In fact, an in-depth cost study of 24 large hospitals that implemented telemedicine to replace follow-up or routine appointments found that telemedicine offered up to an annual cost savings of $1.3M.2 This money was then reinvested to enhance hospital equipment and to purchase additional telemedicine technology. As hospital systems reap the cost savings benefits, they are passing it along to the patients, with an appointment via telemedicine generally costing less than a traditional in-person doctor’s visit for the same treatment.3
Expect fierce competition from tech giants
The telemedicine industry is expected to get very crowded, as a host of big players, like Amazon enter the health and wellness market. With the recent launch of their own virtual health clinic, Amazon Care, the megaretailer is looking to leverage their strength in technology systems in order to revamp telemedicine completely. Limited, right now to their Seattle-based employees, Amazon Care offers a unique combination of telemedicine services as well as in-home care visits. Through this new program, Amazon employees will be able to meet with physicians and nurses for urgent care, have preventative health consults via webchat, and video conference calls through a new mobile application. If Amazon Care’s pilot program is successful, Amazon hopes to roll out similar programs nationwide and eventually make their virtual medicine services available to Amazon Prime subscribers.4
As patients continue to embrace the undoctoring movement and look for ways to regain control over their health, expect telemedicine to quickly grow in popularity. The key for health and wellness providers will be to create virtual or on-demand options for their current patients and use these services to boost new patient acquisition. But, if technology and retail mega giants like Amazon continue to carve out a foothold in the healthcare industry, the window to compete in telemedicine may be closing fast.