Kaiser Permanente members in California and the mid-Atlantic region are 14% less likely to die from a stroke and 43% less likely to die from heart disease than people in the entire nation. What’s their secret?
It’s not a matter of having better doctors. It has to do with the health system’s commitment for more than 10 years to developing robust telehealth services integrated across care delivery and an increased emphasis on primary care and prevention, notes Robert Pearl, M.D., CEO of Kaiser Permanente Medical Group from 1999 to 2017.
Pearl and Brian Wayling, executive director of telehealth services at Intermountain Healthcare, another pioneering telehealth organization, argue in a recent Harvard Business Review report that the telehealth era is just beginning.
Creating a Teledriven System
With telehealth usage continuing to dip far below peaks achieved during the pandemic and uncertainty about future regulatory and reimbursement policies, something must change, Pearl and Wayling say.
They believe that positive change can be accelerated by greater integration of telehealth services that are supported by modern information technologies and built around teams of doctors who work together and participate in value-based care relationships.
Pearl and Wayling say that five opportunities could improve clinical quality by 20%, increase access to care by 20% and cut health care spending by 15% to 20%.
The most logical candidates to drive this change are employers, and it appears many are ready to act. More than half of employers surveyed recently by the Business Group on Health, a trade group representing 72 Fortune 100 companies, say implementing more virtual health solutions is their top priority for 2023.
Where Employers Are Headed
Respondents, however, said that telehealth must evolve. More than 80% believe it’s necessary to integrate virtual and in-person care. They fear that lack of integration could lead to unnecessary care, duplicate services, higher costs and a fragmented experience for patients. More than half (57%) expressed concern about the quality of care through virtual platforms.
Mental health is another key service area for employers. Nearly 90% of respondents said they’ve increased access to mental health services through online resources such as apps, and 53% have offered virtual counseling. The number of employers offering virtual counseling is expected to grow 20% in 2023, the report notes.
And even though employers remain concerned about overall higher health care costs, they’re not looking to cut back on investments in telehealth and mental health services for their workers.
4 Keys to Becoming a More Teledriven Health System
1 | Provide 24/7 Virtual Care
Many patients who go to the ED after hours require no emergency services. They simply have nowhere else to go. Kaiser Permanente members in Virginia, Maryland and Washington have a better option. They have access to a 24/7 video health center that connects them with a doctor who quickly assesses the problem and offers guidance, greatly reducing unnecessary ED visits and related costs.
2 | Expand Home Monitoring
During the pandemic, Intermountain Healthcare connected telemedicine and a remote patient monitoring program to unclog EDs and free up hospital beds.
3 | Concentrate on Chronic Diseases
Conditions like hypertension are poorly controlled 50% of the time in the U.S., but members in Kaiser Permanente’s large multispecialty medical groups achieve a control rate of better than 90%. The biggest difference: frequency of disease measurement and timeliness of treatment — factors facilitated by virtual care.
4 | Address Disparities in Care
Smartphones capable of video interactions make care more equitable and accessible to 89% of U.S. adults and can be a lifeline for underserved populations. Intermountain’s ability to offer virtual access to mental health services gives patients quick access to emergency and routine care. During the pandemic, the system delivered 85% of its mental and behavioral health visits virtually.