As large health plans begin to fold in telemedicine services, we will see the overall market reach a new level of maturity and acceptance. The next tipping point will be the flourishing of remote patient monitoring and diabetes management solutions.
In a previous issue I wrote about the telemedicine tipping point, a point in time that would occur with the end result being the mainstream adoption of telemedicine. We have reached that point, and it is now time to look at what’s next. Let me explain.
Quite a number of my friends know that I do some work in the area of telemedicine and write for this magazine, so they feel compelled to send me text messages letting me know that they can now do a virtual doctor visit or a telemedicine visit via their insurance plan. In fact, many have stated that their plan actually encourages it for certain ailments over an urgent care visit. My wife, who recently took a new job, brought home her benefits information and sure enough, in the package of information, there was a two-page section on telemedicine services and how they should be utilized.
I have seen big players named in these plans, everyone from MDLive to Teledoc, American Well and Welldoc. These are some of the known names in telemedicine, the ones who have raised copious amounts of venture capital and have survived the early lean years. They are finally getting their due and it only took about five to seven years to get to this point. Adoption and acceptance rates will only go up from here as these service providers get more deeply embedded into numerous employee health plans.
What is next?
Now, the next layer of telemedicine or mHealth providers will get their seat at the table. I believe that you will see two specific categories of providers and solutions. They are remote patient monitoring devices/applications and diabetes management solutions. These two areas can provide significant results such as dollar savings on overall patient costs to service and measurably better outcomes.
There have been numerous providers in this space who have come and gone, unable to weather the storm, exhausting their capital only to fall short for no other reason then the market matured at a much slower pace than expected. That is the name of the game, right? The VC’s knew that some of their investments would generate zero return but they had to take a shot in order to find the next Fitbit.
Who is the next Fitbit?
Diabetes management solution providers are ready to take center stage. They will be the next to be added to the covered services by the big (and little) payers. The providers will jump on board because they will have a mechanism for getting paid. Some will get paid more for better results so they will embrace this “new” technology. I placed new in quotes because it isn’t new at all; in fact many of the solutions available now have been available for many years. But now they’ll get their time in the spotlight. Now is their time to shine.
Personally, I worked for a diabetes management solution company and it was way ahead of its time. Years, in fact. We were talking about converged health management platforms and aggregation of data across multiple end points and unified data presentment long before the solutions gaining market traction today.
Unfortunately, the company did not weather the storm and was acquired for a very small fraction of its original venture capital raise. My point is that we are seeing the natural progression of market solution adoption at work. Good solutions die horrible unnecessary deaths, others who may not have the same robustness will live to close another round, and this is health solution Darwinism at its best.
Those who have weathered the storm are poised to succeed where others have failed. They have pretty solid solutions and have been able to stretch that VC money out longer than others. They are survivors and will now be rewarded. They have learned the lessons taught by their fallen brothers and sisters; they have perfected their crafts and they will now take pages out of the telemedicine providers playbooks and achieve the mass adoption they have longed for.
Finally, I believe that remote patient monitoring solutions, those that utilize multiple diagnostic tools such as BP cuffs, weight scales and pulse oximeters, will see a renewed level of success. This will be a much harder sell to the payers due to the overall cost of the equipment and the user error factor involved in their operation. For patients with CHF and COPD, these solutions can absolutely provide a higher level of care with better outcomes and reduced expense to treat and manage, but that will be in specific situations and optimal conditions. It is important to note that the VA has just awarded $1 billion in contracts for this very type of solution. It was spread amongst four different service providers equally. That is $250 million each. The payers will be keeping a close eye on the results of this initiative (as they have with the previous VA awards in the area of remote patient monitoring) and as soon as it can be justified via results, we will have the next telemedicine domino fall.