Telehealth technology acquisition models – Healthcare service providers’ choices
Tele Medicine also called Telehealth involves delivering healthcare services, education or information to patients from a distance. TeleHealth includes electronic communication, video chat, and remote monitoring. (EMU, 2021)
Telehealth has effectively replaced over 17% of all outpatient/office visit claims with evaluation and management (E&M) services. This utilization spiked to over 32% during the pandemic and since then stabilized to around 17%. Consumers’ and providers’ attitudes toward telehealth have improved since the pre-COVID-19 era. (Mckeinsey and Company, 2021).
Telehealth is rapidly growing in India from an estimated value of 0.9 billion USD in 2019 to 5.4 billion US by 2025. (Kanwal, 2021)
India is at the forefront of adopting digital technologies. An estimated 5.5 billion mobile-based money transactions happen every day in India and India has become a Global model for contactless payments. It is surprising to note that illiteracy, economic or technology barriers have not stopped people from embracing contactless payments due to their simplicity and efficiency.
A similar transformation is expected and somewhat needed in the healthcare sector. Telehealth is fast maturing to trigger such a transformation in healthcare, similar to what contactless payments did to cash transactions. India is home to some 133 telehealth startups and there are around 260 notable telehealth suppliers in the USA. Not having a strategy for telehealth services is no longer an option for healthcare providers.
However, India’s healthcare needs are extremely complex and diverse. Currently, these diverse needs are being addressed by individual practitioners, small clinics, Medium-sized hospitals, and the big networked hospitals. The technology adaptation barriers in healthcare are very similar to contact-less payment adaptation. Let’s explore the choice of telehealth technology acquisition for these healthcare providers.
The aggregator models
Similar to Uber or Ola, the aggregator apps create a platform for the individual clinical practitioner and the patients to find each other. A large database of clinicians and their availability including regional preferences are constantly updated by the platform. On-demand, a seamless and secure connection between the patient and clinicians is established to address the care needs of the aggregator platform. The platforms have grown smart to include a full ecosystem of payment portals, transport services, and online medication ordering. The clinicians or the patients have limited say in the features, look and feel of the app but they enjoy the flexibility of easily switching to another app when needed.
Own telehealth platform
Many large healthcare corporations have opted to either build their own telehealth platform from scratch or use commercial healthcare IT vendors to develop and customize a telehealth platform to meet their specific needs.
Quite a few healthcare corporations have decided to build their “own” telehealth platform which typically has a long and risky development timeline including knowledge retention challenges. The viability of this approach, in the long run, remains to be seen as technology and platform improvements happen at lightning speed while healthcare institutions struggle to balance their budget between technology upgrades and core clinical capability expansion. This model of “own” product development has certainly failed for HIS and the fate of captive Telehealth product development may not be very different! The other option is to partner with good healthcare IT company that can address today’s and tomorrow’s needs of the healthcare provider while offering peace of mind including technology obsolescence protection and guaranteed uptimes.
What about the healthcare service provider that is neither an individual nor a large network of hospitals? There are an estimated 43,000 private hospitals (Sankar, 2020) in India, and the majority of them will fall under this category. This specific segment of ( 50 to 100 beds) private hospitals that can neither go for the aggregator model nor own a telehealth platform will need a strategy to connect their loyal patients to their favorite clinicians. In the future these patients will refuse to take the trouble of fighting the traffic, risking new infections to come and visit his/her favorite clinician for simple ambulatory care. Moreover, not having a strategy for teleconsultation might result in losing valuable patients to competition and aggregator apps eventually.
For this under-addressed segment, we need a telehealth solution that is mature enough but at the same time flexible enough to offer localization, white labeling, and advanced integration models. The technology partner should be able to withstand the test of time and offer flexibility in the business model and new feature development. The technology partner should retain the hospital’s brand promise and maintain customer intimacy through appropriate features and functionality.
Softlink’s telehealth platform is fully geared to address this specific segment’s needs and can greatly enhance the customer experience while extending digital care delivery. With Softlink’s telehealth platform, hospitals can easily solve the technology challenges and be ready for the digital transformation in healthcare. Softlink’s telehealth platform is available on a “try and buy” model to validate and support the decision-making process of hospitals.