Telemedicine is Far from Dead, Says Providence Virtual Care Chief – MedCity News - Latest Global News

Telemedicine is Far from Dead, Says Providence Virtual Care Chief – MedCity News

This year has not been a good year for virtual care companies. Optum closed its virtual care unit in April, Walmart closed its virtual care offering (as well as its entire healthcare unit) in May, and two of the country’s largest telemedicine providers – Teladoc Health and Amwell – both made large rounds of layoffs this year.

But that doesn’t mean telemedicine is dead, said Eve Cunningham, Providence’s director of virtual care and digital health, during an interview Tuesday at the Reuters Digital Health conference in San Diego.

“There was a wave of companies that were essentially telemedicine-only standalone companies — or primary care and telehealth standalone companies — that were not connected to an integrated care system. “It just doesn’t work,” Cunningham explained.

Providing virtual primary care and nothing else is a very difficult model to make profitable, she noted.

However, it is not impossible. For example, a startup could potentially make this model profitable if it is a concierge practice that only accepts cash or commercial patients, Cunningham pointed out.

“But if you’re really trying to take care of the entire community – Medicare, Medicaid and the entire diverse patient population of the community – you have to look at the entire ecosystem of the integrated health care delivery system to make it financially viable,” she explained. “I think , some of these companies thought they could spin off a part of health care and make it profitable, and they just outdid themselves without really understanding the full economics of health care.”

When connected to both the larger healthcare system and a patient’s existing care journey, virtual care can still be a convenient and effective way to treat patients, Cunningham said. Health systems are aware of this, and that’s why they’re still incorporating telehealth into their health care delivery models, even as many retail disruptors are moving away from it, she said.

Providers in Providence conduct virtual visits with more than 1.1 million patients each year, Cunningham added.

“Telehealth isn’t dead, but the way companies tried to deliver it was problematic,” she noted.

It often makes sense to use telemedicine visits for certain parts of a patient’s care and rely on in-person visits for other parts, Cunningham said.

Suppose a patient has pain in the pelvic area. You can visit your gynecologist’s office for an initial visit and ultrasound, then have a virtual visit a few days later to discuss the results with your doctor. If the doctor and patient decide that surgery is the next step, the patient will of course have the procedure performed in person – but their postoperative visit could certainly be conducted virtually.

“Telehealth needs to be integrated into care,” Cunningham said. “There seems to be a lack of understanding of how care works and what the possibilities are for incorporating virtual encounters into care.”

Photo: elenabs, Getty Images

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