Few would argue about the need to transform healthcare delivery. Given the rising costs and the increasing barriers to accessibility, something has to give—but how? In a recent speech, Frans van Houten, CEO at Royal Philips NV, described his vision for the future of healthcare in five words. We’d like to take it a step further and offer one word: telehealth.
According to van Houten, more than 15% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas where millions of Americans face pressing health needs amidst a physician shortage and high rate of hospital closure. And, thus, we have van Houten’s first prediction for the future of healthcare: inclusion. “Technology can increasingly close the gap between the haves and the have-nots—telehealth is changing the way we engage with our patients…,” he said.
It’s true: Telehealth can bring medical services to remote areas. However, as we wrote recently, patients in urban areas can benefit from telehealth, too. Physician shortages combined with changing healthcare legislation has resulted in increasing wait times for new patient appointments. Telehealth enables patients to connect with physicians and medical specialists face-to-face, in real time regardless of location. Eliminating these barriers to access can help reduce delayed diagnoses, as well as prevent ER and hospital visits. The result: better patient outcomes—another characteristic van Houten attributes to the future of healthcare.
Improving outcomes necessitates an increased focus on prevention and wellness. The integration of prevention and wellness programs into our daily lives can help reduce chronic symptoms, re-hospitalizations, and the ever-growing burden on healthcare practitioners.
As we’ve written before, “The key to realizing this vision is effective collaboration across a wide variety of healthcare stakeholders, which includes pharmacists, doctors, nurses, specialists, and most importantly, the patient and their caretakers. Robust voice and video technologies would enable all required parties to connect across distances and keep track of a patient’s health and progress.”
Productivity is also a hallmark of van Houten’s vision for healthcare, and video technologies can help here, too. Health care providers themselves can increase their productivity by, for example, making their daily rounds from the main office rather than traveling between medical offices and hospitals.
Video can also help improve productivity by driving more complete integration of health systems. “[W]hen you think of the care experience, it’s fair to say that, generally speaking, health systems can be rather siloed, with each component of the system striving for excellence before ‘handing over’ the patient to the next part, leaving the integral care process less than optimal for patients,” van Houten said.
Just as patient care is most efficacious when the patient’s health is considered in totality, so the delivery of that care is most efficacious when it’s delivered as an integrated whole, with physicians working together. Using video, health care providers can get secondary opinions and consult with specialists in real time, thereby reducing overhead costs. Physicians can review test results together and avoid handing off patients from one practitioner to another.
This is an example of van Houten’s fourth characteristic: seamless care. “Seamless care totally changes the patient experience by ‘joining up the dots,’” van Houten said.
Finally, telehealth helps address the last characteristic of van Houten’s vision for the future of health care: innovation. “And innovation, of course, involves people. Creative, committed, talented people innovating not only new technologies but new ways of working, workflows, funding… new ways of thinking.”
Video collaboration not only bridges the gap between patient and healthcare provider; it also brings together the myriad people who work behind the scenes to facilitate patient care—the very people who have intimate knowledge of existing processes and insights for improving them. Bringing these people together via video can help build a foundation of trust that can only come from meeting face-to-face, thus enabling them to constructively solve problems with the patient in mind.
While there is still some work to be done to transform the delivery of healthcare, the future isn’t as far off as it would seem. In fact, some organizations are already reaping the benefits of thinking beyond the status quo. “Through better, more seamless connections involving telehealth, remote oversight in the e-ICU and home monitoring, Banner Health has reduced cost by 34%, lowered hospitalizations 45% and realized 26% fewer deaths,” van Houten said.
Banner Health is by no means an isolated success.
“Westchester Medical is using tele-psychiatry to knock down barriers to care and make it easier for patients to keep their appointments – resulting in a fourfold reduction in cancellations and $1M in savings,” van Houten wrote.
There’s no doubt that by working together via video, healthcare practitioners and patients will transform the future of healthcare—a future marked by inclusion, improved outcomes, seamless care, increased productivity, and innovation.