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Telehealth to save costs, expand into specialties


Atul Singh of Walgreens and Amy Clarke of MDLive

Telehealth is expected to grow tenfold, according to Walgreens director of digital health Atul Singh and MDLive VP strategic partnerships Amy Clark who led an Insight Session Monday examining the growth, benefits and future of telehealth and telemedicine. Since 2014, Walgreens and MDLive have collaborated to offer telemedicine visits with MDLive physicians through Walgreens’ mobile app and website.

Singh said that the telehealth market is expected to grow tenfold by 2018 due to large shifts in the healthcare landscape, led by the estimated shortage of primary care physicians that the Department of Health and Human Services estimates will number around 45,000 by 2020. This shortage can lead to a lack of access to care, even by patients with health insurance. And patients with high-deductible plans are looking to save themselves money, as are health systems and payers for whom emergency room and urgent care visits for acute conditions can be costly. To highlight potential savings, Singh pointed to a survey of telemedicine users that found savings of $190,790 per 1,000 visits, based on where they would have gone otherwise.

“You see so many players jumping into this because … the value it brings to our overall health system is just tremendous,” Singh said. “The promise of telemedicine is actually to drive lower costs for the overall healthcare system by approximately $300 billion. If you’ve been thinking about participating in the telemedicine space, … I would strongly urge you to take a serious look at this.”

Currently, telehealth is moving in new directions, with telemedicine companies looking to expand into specialty care. MDLive and Walgreens this year began including behavioral health services in their offerings, and Clark said dermatology is one of the categories that will see telemedicine growth in the coming years. At the same time, elements of telehealth, from remote monitoring data to telemedicine and electronic health records, will become integrated into a single access point.  

“I think over the next handful of years, we will see a lot of healthcare technology come through a single point of contact,” Clark said. “Your second opinion services, your price transparency services, your medical information and symptom checker services will all come through a single place ... so that patients have better access.”

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