by Timi Leslie

January 29, 2019 — Will 2019 be the year of telehealth? Increased telehealth adoption by providers, payers, policy makers and consumers appears to substantiate this industry-wide prediction (1). Yet, virtually every statement on the future ubiquity of telehealth includes an ‘if” statement: IF services are reimbursed, IF policies and regulations are supportive, IF consumers adopt, and so on.

At BluePath Health, we see formidable barriers arise consistently as we work with clients to implement telehealth programs. What is clear to us is that for telehealth success, every entity involved needs to be on the same page from the start. That page is virtual first. Like mobile first, which transitioned from a unique strategy to table stakes for any new product or service, virtual first is becoming the path to high-quality, cost-effective care delivery.

E-consult illustrates how a virtual first strategy for all involved organizations and institutions are critical. When payors decide, without provider collaboration, to implement e-consult to provide their member base with better specialty care access, they face the challenge of provider adoption. If providers decide, without payor support, to use e-consult for high-quality patient care, they face the challenge of reimbursement and sustainability.

Even when payors and providers team up to implement e-consult, they may still face regulatory barriers. Engaging government and public health policy is another critical factor in the virtual health equation. For several years, BluePath Health has partnered with California’s Department of Health Care Services and the Department of Managed Health Care to revise Medi-Cal’s telehealth policy to recognize e-consult. By facilitating a close collaboration between policy makers, providers, and payors, policy revisions are underway.

Virtual care cannot be successful when considered an additional care layer or a nice-to-have. If 2019 will be the year of telehealth, virtual first must become integrated into the core of provider and payer operations and be fully supported by flexible, friendly government policy.

1. “The 4 key traits of today’s telehealth patients, according to our 5,000-patient survey,” Advisory Board, April 2018