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New Telehealth Programs Look to Promote Integrated Care Management

While direct-to-consumer telehealth is still going strong, health plans and businesses are starting to look for connected care platforms that can address all of an employee's healthcare needs - including primary care.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Health plans are moving past telehealth platforms that simply offer urgent care services and embracing a connected care philosophy that addresses all of the patient’s care.

Two recent vendor announcements point to a trend in the market in which health plans and self-insured businesses are looking to offer a complete package of telehealth services, including primary care and specialist consults. One of the drivers in this expansion is research that indicates 30 percent of Americans – and 45 percent of Millennials – don’t have a primary care provider.

This week, Crossover Health, which offers health clinics for the self-insured business market (including Microsoft and Visa), announced the acquisition of Sherpaa Health, a virtual care platform launched in 2013 to facilitate online care management. In addition, Doctor On Demand, one of the leaders in the direct-to-consumer telehealth market, unveiled its new Synapse platform, aimed at “addressing the gaps in primary care” by coordinating services beyond the first online encounter.

“There is a patient-driven demand for continuity of care and doctor-patient relationships within virtual care,” San Francisco-based DOD said in its press release. “Over 30 percent of patients who repeat visit with Doctor On Demand request to see the same physician. Through Synapse, Doctor On Demand can complement care for patients who have primary care physicians (e.g. by offering high-touch chronic care management, preventive care services, and coordinated mental health), and Doctor On Demand’s physicians can also serve as primary care physicians for the large and growing segment of Americans who lack access to primary care services.”

The trend isn’t exactly new. Companies like American Well, Teladoc and InTouch Health have been expanding their platforms for years in an effort to create a more comprehensive package of services for consumers. More recently, though, telemedicine advocates and critics have been highlighting the challenges of creating a DTC platform that offers convenience and immediacy, but struggles to maintain a continuity of care and instead creates siloes.

Crossover Health officials said the Sherpaa deal gives the company a larger telehealth base on which to mold services for companies and health plans. Instead of focusing solely on clinics, these businesses can develop “a singular care delivery vehicle able to offer primary care anywhere.”

The distinction is significant. DTC programs may be good for consumers looking for a quick fix to an urgent care need, such as an infection or fever, but businesses and health plans are now paying attention to long-term health and wellness. Healthy employees reduce business costs related to sick time, and preventive and proactive care increases the chances of better overall health.

With the move toward value-based care and the patient-centered home, telehealth companies – including those serving businesses and health plans – are seeing value in integrating their services. Offering a platform that can include primary care, specialty consults and referrals, mental health services, diagnostic tests and preventive care gives businesses the chance to meet the needs of their employees and manage overall care.

While the market for DTC telehealth will remain strong – health systems, hospitals, health plans and businesses will always want a simple and convenient service for treating health concerns outside the ED or doctor’s office – the connected care industry as a whole is getting better at integration. That will make it easier to create care management models that meet all the needs of the patient and the provider.

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