Tele-medicine has been an exciting new idea and application of technology expected to transform healthcare delivery economics for nearly a generation. Entrepreneurs, often “tech-enabled” physician specialists, have been building and touting niche market offerings, purpose-built to unique requirements of a given specialty or medical condition. These have, of necessity, been full-featured, self-contained tool sets striving to provide comprehensive functionality: patient condition and diagnostic data and images, collaboration capabilities (voice, data, text, video, images), decision support, charting, evidence-based treatment protocols, care/patient response tracking, monitoring and alerting, ICD10 coding support (we must get paid), MACRA/HCAHPS, pay for performance compliance/tracking, and a host of workflow, controls and metrics capabilities. Specialty service businesses offer tech-enabled “carve-outs”: teleradiology is a mature example of this business model. Others are following the Athenahealth model, offering technology-enabled services to hospitals, clinics, and practices for specialties or clinical conditions.
All this innovation is disruptive to established clinical practice and operating models, challenging them to reinvent themselves to meet access, efficiency and quality thresholds or embrace these new services, integrating them into existing operations.
When tech-enabled healthcare was a slow-moving train and internal clinical practice was still principally paper driven, incremental and standalone decisions about a specific health service could be made without generating house-wide disruption. That ship has sailed. New offerings (opportunities) are popping up quarterly that promises to bring service access, capacity, sophistication, quality and operating efficiencies to struggling hospitals and providers. Electronic Medical Record investments have been made in virtually every healthcare venue. Workflows and operating practices are now, finally, evolving to leverage the rapid transition the healthcare industry has made from paper to digital over the last five years. Tele-medicine decisions can no longer be made on an individual, departmental or line of care basis without significant impact to broad operations.
Savvy operators will begin challenging niche suppliers to integrate offerings with platform investments already in place. Technical and operational compatibility will become key decision criteria for investments. Solution pricing will move to levels which assume leverage of existing functionality as though overlapping capabilities and functionality do not exist. The emergence of FHIR interoperability standards is launching a new generation of entrepreneurs intent on leveraging deployed platform capabilities to enable “lite” versions of tele-medicine. Platform vendors will likely begin expanding value by offering “generic” tele-medicine functionality. A variety of strategies are available: support for FHIR and innovation access marketplaces, acquisition and integration of current or emerging boutique solution providers, convergence-enabling partnerships with medical communications solution providers (speech, text, video teleconferencing, etc.) to name a few.
Healthcare operators are being challenged on all sides to reinvent themselves as never before. Venture and private equity, tool suppliers, clinical practice as a service models and healthcare operator customers will engage to create new, more capable, accessible and sustainable healthcare services.
Are you considering a tele-medicine strategy for your hospital? Invested or investing in a tele-med supplier? Competing in the tele-medicine space and struggling to connect with prospects? Contact BrightWork Advisory, LLC to schedule a strategic project engagement to gain practical insights and suggestions. We have been there!