Telemedicine And Its Position In The Urgent Care Industry

The family care/urgent care industry is a diverse playing field where innovative leaders have built successful models to address the demand for convenient, cost-effective and patient care. This overview focuses on the telemedicine industry—a service model gaining great interest in this time of change and innovation.

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine, which uses technology and mobile devices to connect patients for real time consultations, is adding a new dimension to healthcare. It offers an alternative, affordable and efficient way to access healthcare and a tremendous opportunity to those who provide the care.

Telemedicine is a 12 year old industry. In spite of its recognition as a potential solution to many of our current healthcare challenges, it was held back for political reasons for several years. Today things have changed and it has been growing rapidly for the past 3-4 years and is expected to be included in all benefit packages and insurance plans in the next 3-5 years.

What’s driving this growth is:

  • More people entering the system
  • A shortage of physicians
  • Longer wait times
  • Lack of access for those in remote areas
  • Insurance plans with higher deductibles
  • Cost efficiencies
  • Quality of care
  • Patient demand
  • Videoconferencing technology is becoming commonplace for all
  • Medical malpractice risk is readily underwritten into most insurance policies
  • States are increasingly requiring payers to reimburse telemedicine visits
  • Providers are becoming more familiar and comfortable with telemedicine practices
  • As healthcare costs continue to spiral upward, the financial case for telemedicine continues to become more compelling.

Telemedicine specifically address the three biggest issues in healthcare today:

  • Timely access to care: It brings healthcare services to patients (sometimes 24/7) wherever they are and allows medical facilities to expand their reach far beyond their own offices.
  • Lower costs: Telemedicine has been shown to reduce the cost of healthcare through increased efficiencies, redirection of care and better management of care.
  • Quality of Care: Studies show the quality of care delivered via telemedicine to be as good as that given by in-person consultations.

Telemedicine typically treats routine, episodic health issues like cold and flu symptoms, sore throat, sinusitis, bronchitis, allergies, urinary tract infection, respiratory infection, pink eye, ear infection, pediatric care and more. These are all medical issues treated routinely by family care/urgent care clinics.

According to the American Medical Association, nearly 70% of doctor office visits and 40% of emergency room visits are unnecessary. These situations could effectively be handled by telemedicine consultations.

It is most likely to be used:

  • After normal office hours
  • Traveling
  • Non-emergency medical issues
  • When a doctor is not available

Prescriptions can be sent into the practice’s own pharmacy or pharmacy of patient’s choice.

Results from a Telemedicine provider:

  • 91% of patient issues resolved
  • 95% satisfaction rate
  • 92% would use it again
  • 16 minutes, average wait time
  • 8% of callers would have gone to emergency room
  • 43% would have gone to a PCP

Local vs. National Providers

Family Care/Urgent Care providers are well positioned to take advantage of new market opportunities because both consumers and employers are increasingly looking at Telemedicine options for on-demand medicine.

These services, if provided by a known brand provider network, would seem to be preferable to a national network.

  • There are many cases in which an individual or a child has a routine medical condition and a doctor is not easily accessible. It will be critical in the years ahead of the family care/urgent care industry to determine how to capitalize on this movement rather than be displaced by it.
  • Practices and providers can also grow patient volume and expand their reach statewide rather than treating only those who live 3-5 miles from their clinic.
  • Clinics can provide telemedicine based follow up visits that create stronger relationships with their patients and increase repeat business.
  • Clinics can also leverage telemedicine to compete in the rapidly growing space of employer-based healthcare services.

Telemedicine has made it possible for family care/urgent care clinics to compete for patients in an entirely new space. It is also possible for other web-based services and other health care organizations to compete for family care/urgent care patients. At the same time we are seeing the emergence of retail clinics in stores such as CVS, Walmart, Target, Walgreens and many more. It is therefore critical that family care/urgent care providers understand this emerging space.

Is the time right now to add Telemedicine?

A growth strategy framework commonly taught in business schools is Igor Ansoff’s “Product-Market Growth Matrix” (Ansoff I. Strategies for Diversification. Harvard Business Review. 1957;35(5): 113-124). It suggests that growth can be created via four approaches:

  1. Market Penetration: Driving more sales of existing services to existing customers;
  2. Product Development: Offering new services to existing customers;
  3. Market Development: Selling existing services to new markets; and
  4. Diversification: Selling new services to new markets.

A telemedicine growth strategy for family care/urgent care centers, then, can be evaluated based on the answer to four basic questions:

  • Does it help expand your existing patient base for your current service offerings?
  • Can it help deliver new services to the existing patient base?
  • Will it expand your existing services into new markets?
  • Will it enable you to offer new services to new patients?

The urgent care industry is in a state of rapid transformation. Larger corporate players, insatiable for increased scale and leverage, are acquiring and building at a rapid pace. Occupational medicine and work-site wellness are driving an increased focus on employer-based services. Retail clinics and alternative concierge models seek to siphon patients away.

Given the rapidly changing nature of the industry, family care/urgent care enterprises and providers should evaluate a telemedicine strategy using the four basic strategic questions derived from Ansoff’s product-market growth matrix, and assess the associated legal and technological considerations. An examination of telemedicine is a critical step to determine if a partnership will help your clinic develop and implement a growth strategy for the future.

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