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Hollander: Don’t Measure Telehealth Value Against In-Person Healthcare

Telehealth is just another way of delivering healthcare, says Thomas Jefferson University's Judd Hollander. Its value is in access and cost. And that's why consumers prefer it.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Those trying to find value in telehealth by comparing a virtual visit to an in-person visit are getting it all wrong, according to Judd Hollander.

The virtual visit, says Hollander, Senior Vice President of Healthcare Delivery Innovation at Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University and Associate Dean for Strategic Health Initiatives at SJU’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College, doesn’t necessarily replace the visit to the doctor’s office. It replaces whatever method of healthcare is most convenient and economical at the time that healthcare is needed.

It’s “the alternative to the patient at that time,” Hollander says. And for roughly 30 percent of those care moments, the most convenient alternative is not getting any care at all.

In his keynote presentation to open Xtelligent Media’s Telehealth 2018 event this week in San Diego, Hollander cast telehealth and telemedicine as the right method of care at the right time for a vast majority of the American population. And he tossed aside the common arguments against digital healthcare, saying today’s doctors are more concerned with diagnostic accuracy than they are with gathering information that can make their patients feel better.

“Every single one of you in this room has done telemedicine,” he told an audience of about 150 healthcare providers and health system executives. “You can do this stuff. You just need to figure out how you can do it.”

Hollander’s opening keynote launched the first day of a two-day conference focused not on how telehealth can improve healthcare delivery, but on how it will make things better for providers and their patients. Forget comparing the video visit or telehealth encounter to the typical trip to the doctor’s office or ER, he argued, because today’s consumers are focused on what’s most convenient and accessible.

And they won’t find that with a primary care doctor who sees someone a handful of times each year.

“Your doctor doesn’t really know you,” he warned.

Who does? The retail pharmacy, local bank or credit union, cable TV company, all of which have used digital channels – and collected information on consumer preferences – long before the first doctor decided to entice patients with an online platform. They know what you like, Hollander says, and they know how to use it to drive engagement.

So forget about marketing the telehealth visit as an alternative to in-person care, he said. This is a form of healthcare that’s going to make it easier and cheaper for patients to have their questions answered. And if the only viable option is hopping in the car and driving to the nearest doctor’s office or ER, a good portion will decide to seek no help at all.

Hollander argues that telehealth is a means to an end – namely, better healthcare – rather than a whole new way of treating people. It’s a method of care delivery that targets the process rather than the outcome. For example, a primary care doctor using a telehealth platform can flag worrisome health conditions and quickly notify the right specialists to take a close look.

The old process? Call for more tests, or refer the patient to a specialist whose waiting list is several months long.

“I may not be able to treat you,” he pointed out, “but I may be able to save your life.”

A telehealth platform, Hollander argued, offers the best opportunity to gather actionable information on the patient, and to put that patient on the path to a diagnosis. And since the diagnosis should be the same no matter whether the doctor is in the same room as a patient or somewhere else, the best way to deliver and effect that diagnosis is in a manner that best suits the patient.

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