When the pandemic hit, the healthcare industry in general didn’t have the operational infrastructure or resources in place to anticipate the telehealth boom it experienced. Today, however, Algozzine says the industry is working out how to provide telehealth services within sustainable financial models while improving the quality of the patient experience. He envisions a return to 2020’s massive telehealth adoption levels within the next few years.
Transforming the healthcare economy
Algozzine estimates that digital and telehealth services are five to 15 times more efficient than the traditional healthcare system. For example, if a patient injures their ankle, instead of going to the ER and incurring costly, time-consuming treatment, an effective telehealth system would schedule that patient for an x-ray appointment, and from there an orthopedic appointment and all appropriate digital follow-up and scheduling.
“That’s how telehealth can turn care from a series of cumbersome transactions in a fragmented healthcare system to an efficient, frictionless healthcare episode,” he says.
And that, he says, has potential to transform business, not only for payers, but for the entire healthcare economy. McKinsey estimates that $250 billion of current healthcare spend could be virtualized, with 20% of all emergency room visits potentially avoided, and that telehealth solutions deployed for chronic populations can improve total cost of care by 2–3%.
Algozzine thinks even these estimates may be low. “There is much more you can effectively change by creating the correct digital-first and triage systems, which can’t be measured until organizations start to implement them at scale,” he says. “The main barrier to the promise of telehealth is ensuring that healthcare leaders have the vision and courage to inspire their teams to embrace the digital front door.”
It all starts with triage
Technology alone won’t fulfill the profound potential for telehealth to transform American healthcare, says Algozzine. The first step is an efficient triage process.
A sound triage process must seamlessly connect a patient to a qualified healthcare professional — through a virtual visit, or if needed, a live consultation. “If a telehealth system can’t guide a patient through an effective, streamlined triage process,” he warns, “patients will go elsewhere.”