The ever-changing field of telemedicine: 3 experts weigh in

How can the healthcare industry deal with the supply and demand of resources in telemedicine? Where does the cost fall for all the change happening in the world of telecare? What will be the next disruption of technology to support telemedicine?

These are just a few of the questions a group of experts sought to answer during a panel discussion at the Pepperdine Graziadio Future of Healthcare Symposium on March 23. Titled “Advances in Telemedicine for the 21st Century,” the panel brought together three individuals: Hill Ferguson, CEO of Doctor on Demand; Samir Malik, senior vice president and general manager of Genoa Telepsychiatry; and Lou Silverman, CEO of Advanced ICU Care.

The panelists’ companies are at the forefront of technology innovation in healthcare. Doctor on Demand, a telemedicine company, offers patients medical and mental health services. Genoa Telepsychiatry, which is part of Genoa, a QoL Healthcare company, works to expand access to mental health services. Malik came to the company through Genoa’s acquisition of his startup, 1DocWay. Advanced ICU Care implements and oversees tele-ICU programs throughout the country.

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Despite the convenience of telemedicine, there’s a growing need to address the supply and demand of resources in the field. “We are delivering expertise broadly to many markets for perspective,” said Silverman. “Typically our physicians are licensed in north of 20 states. We do all of that ourselves. We will credential them at many dozen hospitals, and that is so that we can solve that access problem that many hospitals face.”

Malik added that there are other ways telemedicine can “help move the needle on supply.” For one, he noted many of the providers who work with his company practice telemedicine in addition to their full-time position, thereby increasing the supply. However, the problem won’t be solved overnight. “Unless you can find a way to grow a doctor tree or a nurse practitioner tree, you’re not really going to solve the supply issue,” Malik said. “But on the edges, we can try to expand the box we’re in.”

Another discussion point revolved around cost and its impact. Ferguson noted that for Doctor on Demand, the two largest beneficiaries of cost savings are the consumer and the payer. “A typical visit cost for our customer is about half of what they’d pay if they went to a Walgreens or CVS MinuteClinic and about 30 to 40 percent of what they’d pay if they went into an urgent care clinic,” he said.

Technology is changing every day and will more than likely alter the face of telemedicine in the years to come. What exactly does the future hold for healthcare technology? Ferguson pointed to changes in innovation on the hardware side, such as enabling small devices to have greater computing power.

Silverman, however, said Advanced ICU Care is practicing “relentless incrementalism” rather than focusing on a potential “big bang innovations.” Similarly, Malik noted that the implementation of innovations like artificial intelligence and virtual reality are still far off in the future. “The truth is, those technologies are so far out right now that the applications, much less the business models, can’t really be distilled,” he said. “There’s a lot of room to run on this runway before we even start thinking about things like artificial intelligence.”

Photo: IAN HOOTON, Getty Images