Can Telehealth Revolutionize the Definition of Value?

The opportunities for telehealth to radically transform the healthcare system are enormous, but the foremost priority of these innovations must be the delivery of value, said Reed V. Tuckson, MD, FACP, at the National Committee for Quality Assurance Quality Talks conference in Washington, DC, on Monday.

The opportunities for telehealth to radically transform the healthcare system are enormous, but the foremost priority of these innovations must be the delivery of value, said Reed V. Tuckson, MD, FACP, at the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) Quality Talks conference in Washington, DC, on Monday. Tuckson, the managing director of Tuckson Health Connections, LLC, outlined telehealth’s present and potential role in healthcare during the day’s final presentation, “Telehealth is Revolutionizing Care Delivery: Can It Change the Value Definition?”

Tuckson began his session, which wrapped up the “Health Plan of the Future” segment of the Quality Talks, by proclaiming that telehealth had moved from being a niche or novelty tool into the mainstream. Now, he said, healthcare professionals must deal with it “seriously, thoughtfully, intelligently” so the incredible potentials of telehealth are not wasted.

Many of the problems the healthcare industry faces, Tuckson said, could be alleviated with advances in telehealth, such as the mismatch between demand and provider availability, particularly in rural areas. The current shift from fee-for-service to population care “demands and requires not only new information, but new abilities to connect across the continuum.”

This concept of connection was where Tuckson saw the most opportunity for growth in telehealth in the coming years, as advances in cloud computing, social networking, gamification, artificial intelligence, and data analytics would allow the healthcare industry to interact with patients in unprecedented ways. This would result in a “true consumer-centered model” as healthcare started to expand outside of its traditional boundaries.

He acknowledged that all stakeholders need to do their part in seeing telehealth through to its full potential, especially physicians, whose support is “crucial.”

“They’re the hard ones to get to embrace [telehealth],” Tuckson said, as it’s “out of their comfort zone.”

However, physicians are not the only ones who must work to nurture the growth of telehealth. Payers need to establish consistent medical codes for telehealth services, and state licensing boards must determine how to regulate a system that “transcends state lines,” since the practitioner and the patient could be thousands of miles apart. Engineers developing the devices’ technology and design must partner with healthcare providers to ensure the new tools “fit seamlessly into the workflow.”

“The telehealth movement is now mainstream,” Tuckson repeated. However, he cautioned, “we need to make sure that we do not get caught in innovation for innovation’s sake. Innovations must always meet the criteria of delivering value.”

NCQA president Margaret E. O'Kane agreed that the responsibility is on providers to ensure telehealth reaches its full potential.

“You are the ones that are going to make innovation meaningful when you plug it into the way you relate to patients,” she said after Tuckson’s presentation.