Exploding #telemedicine market splitting into new businesses
Technology gurus have known for many years that telemedicine was possible, at least in theory. But a couple of decades ago, when thinkers first began to pilot-test virtual consults, the technology for delivering private video was extremely pricey. Most video communications took place in the corporate C-suite across a $100,000+ videoconferencing set-up.
Now, however, the worm has finally turned. Broadband Internet connections are available to virtually every consumer, at least if the unwired are willing to sit in a Starbucks or McDonald’s, and all but the poorest Americans can afford some form of smartphone or tablet which supports video.
Perhaps more importantly, intermediaries like DoctoronDemand, American Well and HealthTap have created custom platforms allowing doctors to collect cash on the barrelhead for small slices of their time. Meanwhile, Medicare and some private insurers have begun paying doctors at market rates. In fact, United Healthcare has just announced that it will begin paying doctors the same rates for telemedicine consults as it does for face-to-face visits.
New telemedicine segments emerge
Despite all of the press hoopla, telemedicine is best described as emerging business rather than a mature one. In fact, it’s just beginning to spin off new business niches which address different needs within the healthcare industry. These include:
- Franchising: At least one company, GoTelecare, is offering franchise territories to entrepreneurs who want to run their own telemedicine business independently. This model doesn’t require the entrepreneur to be affiliated with any particular health system or medical practice.
- Development tools: A growing number of companies are focused entirely on developing telemedicine platforms which can be integrated into physician, hospital and payer systems. These platforms offer providers and payers pre-developed tools which they can use to offer virtual clinic services themselves.
- Hosted platforms: Not surprisingly, a market is developing for hosted telemedicine technology which can be used with little development effort and white-labeled as its own. The time is coming fast when patients will expect hospitals and large physician practices to offer such services as a matter of rote.
Given the staggering cost of developing a substantial consumer enrollee base — something companies like AmWell must face — and that a large number of vendors continue to fight for these customers, entries into this consumer space should calm down soon. But vendors that develop telemedicine tools and hosted software have plenty of room to grow — so expect to hear more from them.
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- If you’re a provider you need to figure out where you fit in the telemedicine world. Keep an eye out for platforms like PointNurse, which actually offers a bonus equity stake, in addition to standard pay to providers who are highly engaged.
- If you’re running a small practice, you have the option of going through one of the national telemedicine brands — notably HealthTap, whose Concierge track is designed be an adjunct to doctors’ private medical practice. But bear in mind that hosted telemedicine platforms, the smarter ones boasting portal features, will also offer worthwhile opportunities as time goes by.
- Hospital IT leaders should begin planning what their technical approach to telemedicine should be, with careful consideration, of course, of how their institution should handle new bandwidth demands. Regardless, they should assume that any practice the health system or hospital owns will offer a virtual clinic with 12 to 24 months from today.