“Three wishes, three. Uno, dos, tres, no substitutions, exchanges, or refunds, and ixnay on the wishing for more wishes.”

Disney’s Aladdin

Seema Khosla, M.D., the medical director at the North Dakota Center for Sleep, put it best when she posed the question “Can you put the genie back in the bottle, or is telemedicine here to stay?“. That was the headline in an article that recently ran in FericeHeathcare‘s Industry Voice.

In the article, Dr. Khosla shares how telemedicine has made significant positive contributions to her and hercolleagues’ practices during the hectic days of COVID19. Specifically, she illuminated how the strict criteria for this model of care delivery (however well intentioned) only added unnecessary barriers to care access and delivery. She also shed some light on how those barriers have come tumbling down “almost instantly”. And that seems to be the storyline when it comes to telemedicine in the news these days. we are seeing this kind of insight and message over and over again.

So what should we wish for as we contemplate the benefits of telemedicine in this brave new world? How can we take advantage of this important new reality in healthcare? What’s important right now?

Hospitals and Health Networks (HHN)

On the provider side (hospitals, health networks, clinicians) it’s all about reimbursement—and then the ability for providers to implement at scale (a tall order, but doable). We are seeing some traction on that first part as payers start to respond with sweeping changes to telemedicine reimbursement. You’ve read about it, right?

Blue Cross Blue Shield has shared that they are making telehealth services for in-network providers going forward, stating that “We are the first health insurer to embrace telehealth permanently”. And recently, Rhode Island has put forth legislation calling for expanded and permanent telemedicine access, providing further evidence that we are seeing a sea change in how this might unfold.

“Our experience with telemedicine during the pandemic shows that it is practical and useful to Rhode Islanders, offering it as an option permanently would improve our healthcare delivery and make it more user-friendly.”

Rhode Island state Sen. Joshua Miller

Implementation of telemedicine at scale and across a diverse care delivery landscape will prove to be a tad more challenging for individual health systems. But those who are brave enough to look to design thinking as a framework will find fertile ground for getting the job done while championing all stakeholders in the final design of their telemedicine program(s).

Pharma Companies

For Pharma companies, it’s all about deepening the usefulness of telemedicine during clinical trials, and using telemedicine to understand the patient better. 

Virtual tools used in clinical trials have been around for a while. Things like self-report solutions, video visits, and digital endpoints surfaced years ago. So, this current situation should compel pharma to innovate further (more than just using virtual visit elements to avoid canceling or putting studies on hold). The technology is widely available and, for the most part, familiar to most patients and related stakeholders. It’s fair to believe that patients (and related stakeholders) want and expect virtual options more now than ever.

Understanding more about the patient is something pharma is more and more keen to accomplish—and this is the perfect opportunity. It’s about the qualitative insights we can gain around things like burden of disease, burden of treatment, and the lived experience at ground level. Getting past the biomedical parts and digging into the cultural, mental, emotional, and behavioral components is the opportunity at hand for pharma (and anyone for that matter interested in patient centricity). And we have good reason.

The Affordable Care Act set the stage. The FDA and many pharma companies are investing more time and effort into understanding the voice of the patient and the patient’s lived experience. It is fast becoming about more than clinical endpoints that are crucial to trials. So much so that there are incentives for accelerated regulatory review (and potential approval) of an asset. This is a tremendous opportunity to really deepen the usefulness of telemedicine during clinical trials—or in any setting where we are accessing the patient virtually.

Academic Medical Centers (AMCs)

For AMCS specifically, the scientists and practitioners engaged in comparative effectiveness research (CER), there is a tremendous opportunity in data gathering. Opportunity to shed important light on the lived experience of study participants. Opportunity to gaze through a window into the home of a diverse range of patient types. Not only can telemedicine provide the portal to additional qualitative insights that might help a CER study, such insights will illuminate important cultural realities that we must understand if we truly want to disseminate learnings at scale across a wide swath of patient types and lived environments.

Like pharma, getting past the biomedical parts and digging into the cultural, mental, emotional, and behavioral components is a pressing opportunity for researchers.

All in all, it’s pretty impressive this pace at which we have been able to implement the telemedicine solution during COVID. Most importantly, this recent expansion of telemedicine is enabling us to meet our patients’ needs while also maintaining patient and clinician safety and business model stability. So let’s throw a little fire on that flame, shall we? Let’s use the benefits of telemedicine to understand and better serve the various stakeholders we are all working for.

WHATS THE POINT?

If you fancy yourself an innovative type and want to exercise those change-agent muscles then here is your chance. Don’t blow it! It has been placed before us on a silver platter. 

The genie is out of the bottle and we have the the tools and strategic intellect at our disposal to build real change into the way we do business—be that a clinical trial, or standing up a comprehensive telemedicine platform. Design offers a framework to truly exploit the benefits of telemedicine, all we need to do is jump in and go for it.

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