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Kaiser CEO: Telehealth Outpaced In-Person Visits Last Year

52 percent of last year's patient transactions at Kaiser Permanente were conducted online, by virtual visits or through the health system's apps, CEO Bernard Tyson says.

By Eric Wicklund

- Kaiser Permanente is seeing more patients online than in person, according to its CEO.

The California-based health network, one of the nation’s largest integrated health systems, saw some 110 million people last year, with some 59 million connecting through online portals, virtual visits or the health system’s apps, Bernard J. Tyson told attendees at the recent Salesforce.com Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

That accounted for 52 percent of the health system’s total visits that year, he said.

“We are going through a major transformation in healthcare,” Tyson pointed out during his keynote presentation. “Because we were all-knowing, we built the entire healthcare industry where everyone has to come to us, but now we are reversing the theory where people have to come to us for everything, so we’ve invested billions in our technology platform.”

The announcement represents an important milestone in telehealth: the first time a large health system has reported more virtual encounters than in-person encounters. It’s also testament to the growing popularity of mHealth and telehealth among consumers.

In a study conducted late last year by the University of Missouri School of Medicine, roughly 80 percent of providers and patients said they were satisfied by the care delivered and received through a video visit.

“Telehealth uses technology such as video conferencing to bridge the distance between a patient and physician,” Mirna Becevic, PhD, an assistant research professor of telemedicine at the MU School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said in a Dec. 8 report announcing the survey’s results. “It allows patients to remain in their communities, saving them from undue hardships related to long-distance travel and time off work. Although the main concept is to provide health services to patients, for telemedicine to be truly effective, it also must be beneficial to those who provide care. The goal of our study was to understand satisfaction levels of all telehealth users.”

And while critics have said telehealth won’t take off until payment models are realigned to reimburse providers, Tyson said aspects of value-based care, including accountable care organizations and bundled payment programs, are shifting risk to providers and compelling them to look at new platforms for care. When you’re given a specific amount of money to achieve a certain clinical outcome, he said, there’s a strong incentive to use telehealth.

“My model is based on a capitation basis so I get a set amount of money to take care of 11 million people,” he said. “I get to invest in this type of infrastructure to allow me to have a big return back to my customers because I am a not-for-profit organization.”

“You build efficiency in a model like this,” he said.

Kaiser reports that, in 2014-2015, the health system saw 20 million e-mail collaborations between healthcare providers, refilled 17 million patient prescriptions, scheduled 4 million appointments and viewed 37 million tests online.

Tyson said the network’s online platform is part of a $400 million investment made by Kaiser Permanente in new or emerging technology, part of a “care anywhere” philosophy.

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