Over the past 10 years, the U.S. telehealth market has grown significantly — increasing by over $22 billion from 2019 through 2023 alone, according to a report by IBISWorld, a leading industry-research firm.
A lot of factors have contributed to this increase, including the COVID-19 pandemic, an aging U.S. population, and convenience (especially for mental health consultations). Many healthcare providers either already have telehealth options for remote physician visits, condition monitoring, and certain virtual treatments — or are evaluating methods to effectively implement them.
And while several obstacles are still in the way, the business-management consultants at Insight Sourcing Group are seeing a continual upsurge in demand for telehealth services — and they have recommendations on how to make them work within the patient-care models of hospitals, doctors’ offices, and various clinics.
Why should you consider telehealth today?
As highlighted by Terry Wheat, senior manager, clinical services, at Insight Sourcing Group, “Telehealth solutions can improve patient outcomes with increased access to care, increased continuity of care, and decreased hospital re-admissions.”
Additionally, shortages in qualified healthcare workers, and what Wheat refers to as “inflationary cost-burdens,” are affecting many rural and inner-city locations. “Increasing the availability of telehealth providers in those areas can lower costs and improve care access for both the patient and the provider,” he said. “Telehealth solutions help providers differentiate themselves from competitors and expand their patient-base by offering more convenient and accessible care options.”
And there is indeed more competition between healthcare providers these days, given the extensive range of players. Larger health systems now face off against not only local organizations, but also retail clinics, well-funded tech firms, and digital health startups with deep-pocketed investors.
Meanwhile, Wheat points to the paradigm shifts in the American workplace as another catalyst for adapting to telemedicine: “As we usher in a new normal with remote and hybrid workforces, the employee benefit package is expected to include ease of access to healthcare in many modalities and geographic locations — making telehealth a must-have benefit.”
What are the challenges?
The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic propelled the need for various industries to re-assess how they operate. “Although telemedicine has existed for over a decade, the pandemic of 2020 escalated patient demand for wider access to telehealth solutions,” Wheat explained.
“Developing a modern, augmented staffing mix within the healthcare system to manage not only the technology implementation, but also the ongoing patient education needed to support a telehealth model within the clinical setting, can be a key challenge,” he continued. “Since this requires new skill-sets and workforce development for the telehealth patient-care delivery model, many organizations are unsure of how to best measure if they are making competitive investments in technology, tools, and staff.”
In 2023, pandemic-related worries are becoming more and more mitigated, yet labor shortages and supply/equipment limitations still beleaguer the healthcare industry. Data from Insight Sourcing Group shows that revenues are in decline — and annual growth expectations are expected to diminish to less than 3% from 2023 through 2026.
However, healthcare companies have been zoning in on opportunities to reduce costs without sacrificing patient satisfaction — and telehealth is certainly in the foreground since it can help providers countervail labor deficiencies and shrink costs by outsourcing many practice areas to virtual providers.
And Insight Sourcing Group insists that the barriers to telehealth implementation can be overcome despite the uncertainties. Although the latter stems from the fact that federal legislation has only extended access to telehealth services through 2024, the medical field has been swiftly converting to digital options nonetheless (e.g., online check-ins and personalized alerts) in addition to telemedicine transitions.
What are the solutions?
Overall, 2023 could be a difficult year for hospitals and other patient-care providers. But consultants like those at Insight Sourcing Group — who are laser-focused on cost-optimization and procurement solutions — are very optimistic about telehealth as a cost-efficient, patient-forward remedy that prioritizes flexibility, overhead/labor-reduction, and quicker access to care.
“Partnering with a management consulting firm that can help with the procurement and implementation of a telehealth model allows the health system to leverage the expertise of a team that has already faced these challenges,” Wheat emphasized.
For clients who don’t know what steps to take to segue into telehealth, Insight Sourcing Group will work with them to determine what part of their practice can accommodate it (besides urgent-care services). Using their present costs of care as a baseline, the consulting team will then contrast those with the proposed pricing of telehealth providers, and also manage the shift from an “in-person” model to a virtual model, which includes training staff on implementation processes, liaising between the client and the telehealth company, and dispensing instructions on the daily use of all virtual solutions.
“We have the most current data benchmarks for technology, labor, and market pricing specific to telehealth delivery models,” Wheat added. “And that ensures the client’s health system can meet patients’ needs while keeping costs affordable.”