Telehealth Will Be a Billion-Dollar Industry By 2018

An Accenture survey finds that investment in on-demand healthcare – whether it’s delivered online, on the smartphone or in an mHealth clinic, will quadruple over the next few years.

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 Investment in on-demand healthcare – whether it’s online, on a smartphone or in a retail clinic – is expected to quadruple in the next few years.

A report issued today by Accenture finds that five factors are driving adoption of everything from telehealth platforms to mobile health clinics, so that what was a $250 million industry just a few years ago will top $1 billion by the end of 2017.

“On-demand healthcare is fundamentally changing—and enriching—the doctor-patient relationship, making the physician much more accessible to patients while simultaneously reducing costs,” Kaveh Safavi, MD, JD, senior managing director for Accenture’s global health business, said in remarks issued today with the report. “With no end to this type of investment in sight, there’s an enormous opportunity for companies to offer fast, convenient and customized user-experiences that ultimately improve the patient experience and outcomes.”

Safavi further sees the nation’s healthcare ecosystem, already shifting from pay-per-service to a value-based platform, embracing preventive healthcare and care management.

“Investment in on-demand healthcare and collaboration between industries will ultimately precipitate a shift away from a goods and services model to a ‘life care’ model, providing patients with personalized services that addresses a multitude of daily needs,” he said.

That’s why, Accenture says, the on-demand healthcare sector has jumped from four companies in 2010 to 42 in 2014 (a growth rate of 224 percent), and the top 200 on-demand companies in all business categories have pulled in more than $9.3 billion since 2000, with transportation and healthcare topping the list.

So what’s driving the popularity of 24/7 care?

  1. Payer support. Large health plans and even the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are starting to reimburse for virtual care, starting first and foremost with the telehealth platforms offered by the likes of American Well, Teladoc, Doctor-On-Demand and a growing number of smaller services. According to Accenture and the American Telemedicine Association, states are moving to enact telehealth parity laws, so that virtual visits are reimbursed and regulated the same as would be an in-person visit.
  2. Consumer support. Not only is telemedicine technology improving, but more consumers are owning smartphones or similar mobile devices – 190-million-plus at last count, making those on-demand care platforms accessible to more people. They’re also finding value in new markets, like schools, prisons, community centers, truck stops, even cruise ships and oil rigs.
  3. Bending the price curve. With an improved platform, on-demand virtual visits have become a more economical alternative for consumers – less expensive and time-consuming than the trip to the hospital ER, urgent care clinic or doctor’s office. Not only are consumers (think the harried parent or busy businessman) favoring the platform, but large businesses are seeing value in supporting telehealth programs that reduce employee absences and boost morale and productivity.
  4. Plan design. Businesses and payers are also finding value in crafting health plans that support telehealth, including virtual visits and health and wellness platforms that incorporate fitness devices and other home-based tools. “On-demand services will be the differentiator,” the Accenture report notes.
  5. Cultural acceptance. According to Accenture, while younger generations are flocking to telehealth services, more and more seniors – 57 percent in a recent survey – are using on-demand healthcare as well. In fact, platforms that cater to seniors at home are attracting not only the seniors themselves but their children, who are more often than not their caregivers.