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The Slow Train of Telehealth

In an age where FaceTime video calls and Direct Messaging with your friends, relatives, co-workers, teachers and students is all too familiar. Why is there still a gap in connecting doctors to patients using these exact same methods?

Virtual consultations were expected to be a huge hit across The United States. In fact, the Telehealth market was valued at $6 Billion in 2016 and is estimated to reach $19.5 Billion by 2025. Given the obvious growing support for the Telehealth market, a 2017 study determined that only 82% of U.S. consumers who have access to Telehealth features don't utilize such services. So one would ask where the disconnect stands?

In that same study, it was determined that a significant part of the disconnect stemmed from consumers not knowing wether or not they had access to Telehealth services. This leads to a common stumbling block between the consumer and their insurance... education. Time and time again we have seen that a lack of education on benefits, coverage and co-payments can limit a consumer utilizing their plan to it's fullest potential. Granted, insurance can be very complex and difficult to understand from top to bottom. With so many different departments and divisions inside of an insurance company, there are many moving pieces that attribute to someone's insurance coverage as a whole.

Nonetheless, consumers won't utilize a benefit they didn't know they had. Even if that benefit can potentially save lives. That brings in another critical factor in the future of Telehealth. Various doctors who participate in Telehealth services believe it to be an integral part of prevention. It's much easier to open an app on your phone to discuss early stages and symptoms and have a doctor prescribe proper prevention procedures. As opposed to a consumer waiting until their condition has worsened before seeing a doctor in person. The issue is getting that point across to consumers through education and marketing.

Photo by timothy muza on Unsplash

Take Oscar Health Insurance for example, a new health insurance company that entered the California marketplace in 2016. Oscar has seemed to have perfected the ideal user-interface for a mobile app that makes talking to your doctor seem as easy as talking to a friend or family member. With Oscar's mobile app, a consumer can easily log-on and talk with a licensed physician about their symptoms and if necessary that physician can prescribe medication at a local pharmacy within minutes. Companies like Oscar have invested greatly in their Telehealth services. So much that their mobile app gives consumers the capabilities of sending photos to their doctors and even offer it as an exclusive free benefit for their consumers. There's no doubt that there is an increasing value in Telehealth as it expands. There has even been several bills introduced to congress in efforts to expand access to treatment through Telehealth services.

However, access and education to Telehealth services may not be the only issue consumers face. In the same 2017 study, it was discovered that nearly half of consumers wouldn't feel at ease even if they had access to Telehealth services. 46% of consumers stated they would feel less comfortable than an in-person visit, 35% believed they would feel just as comfortable and only 18% believed a virtual appointment would be more comfortable than a face-to-face appointment. Therefore, it's safe to say that there is a strong future in Telehealth. The only questions are will it ever become the new normal and how long until we see it come to it's fullest potential.

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