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The Future of Telehealth Is Taking Shape Now

InTouch Health's TruClinic acquisition mirrors other partnerships in the telehealth space that seek to set the sector up for broader adoption.

Telehealth and value-based care go together like hand and surgical glove. It's cost-effective, efficient, and convenient for patients. Yet, technological and regulatory barriers keep health systems from making the most of virtual care.

A 2016 Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Xerox showed that 77% of consumers were excited about the opportunity to receive virtual care, but only 16% had used it. Respondents cited convenience and cost savings as the top two benefits.

A study released this year out of University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine found patients were seen six times more quickly at telemedine-equipped rural hospitals than at those without. The study also found telemedicine reduced door-to-provider time by nearly 15 minutes.

Reimbursement issues aside, lack of interoperability has frustrated clinicians and limited telehealth's potential. Many telehealth providers offer solutions for only a segment of the patient care continuum. That means health systems use platforms and technologies from multiple vendors. Navigating multiple platforms cuts into doctors' patient time and causes data management continuity issues for providers. Delays and compatibility issues diminish the patient experience.

InTouch Health, an enterprise telehealth platform, heard healthcare's call for broader platforms that follow patients through the entire care continuum. At the 2018 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, the Santa Barbara, CA-based company announced its acquisition of TruClinic, a web-based telemedicine provider that focuses on direct-to-consumer virtual care solutions.

As a result of the acquisition, InTouch Health offers customers its existing hardware and software—which allows hospitals to expand acute care, critical care, and behavioral health services—combined with TruClinic's "home-to-home" solution.

"Now, a patient who wants an on-demand visit can go through their own health system, through the InTouch network those health systems already rely on," said InTouch Health CEO Joseph DeVivo. "TruClinic creates a virtual front end for the health system. Patients get the benefit of a virtual visit, but in the ecosystem that knows who they are."

Other companies have joined forces to advance telehealth's presence. Earlier this year, Philips partnered with consumer telehealth provider American Well to incorporate American Well's services into Philips solutions. Stage one involves bringing telehealth into the Philips Avent uGrow baby development tracking app. Using American Well's services, the app will soon give parents access to real-time professional medical consultations.

In October 2017, American Well partnered with Medtronic Care Management Services, which offers remote patient monitoring. The partnership connects Medtronic's patient monitoring data and its video-enabled platforms into American Well telehealth visits.

Last April, American Well began rollout of AW10, which aims to streamline the technology for doctors. The enterprise telehealth release aims to reduce overhead and administrative burden and speed up documentation using automated tools and workflows.

These and other partnerships, as well as increased collaborations between large health systems and Walgreens and CVS pharmacies, provide a glimpse into telehealth's future. While advocates work hard to improve reimbursement issues, telemedicine service providers work to improve technology and compatibility.

Healthcare technology consultant Alan Stein said the emergence of software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions allowed telehealth to expand into more healthcare systems with fewer headaches. "SaaS brings standardization and scalability—providers can deploy more quickly and upgrade their networks more easily," he said. "It's lightweight, nonspecialized and allows home-to-office connection. That benefits both patients and providers."

Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings, such as American Well, MDLive, Philips, Teladoc, and now, InTouch Health, have taken standardization one step further. PaaS offerings integrate software, hardware, data connectivity, patient portals and other services into one framework. The PaaS provider administrates the platform, subject to client approval. Like SaaS, PaaS promises convenience, efficiency, and scalability.

With so many telehealth services available, a cohesive PaaS solution may suit the growing number of time- and budget conscious health systems that want to do more with telehealth. A KPMG LLP survey conducted by HIMSS Analytics in 2017 showed 31 percent of healthcare organizations surveyed use video-based telemedicine services. Another 44 percent plan to.

DeVivo says InTouch Health plans to integrate the TruClinic platform within the next six to nine months. "Physicians will be able to reach all the way through our network, and they'll also be reached by patients," he says. "We hope this shows we're willing to work with partners to help deliver an integrated solution for our collective health system customers."

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