By Nina Deka, Senior Research Analyst, ROBO Global
Lack of access to healthcare and rapidly growing healthcare costs are two critical issues impacting the US economy, and they remain consistent topics of debate among policy makers. Telemedicine, a service that connects a patient to a doctor remotely, has seen rapid growth in the last few years because it addresses both of these issues. Teladoc Health, a ROBO Global Healthcare Technology & Innovation Index (HTEC) member, pioneered the telemedicine industry and now operates over 130 countries. The telemedicine industry has only recently hit an inflection point in adoption, so there remains a long runway for growth, and Teladoc continues to blaze a trail of disruption of the healthcare status quo.
Lack of access to healthcare is a concern that no one is debating
In efforts to help public and private sectors manage the growing physician shortage, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has committed to annually updating its projections. Its most recent study reaffirms past estimates, and it continues to expect demand for physician services to outpace supply such that by 2032, the US will be short 47,000-122,000 physicians. That said, not everyone believes there is a physician shortage today. Some believe that there is a sufficient supply of physicians, but rather a shortage in healthcare services, driven by inefficient use of physician time and uneven distribution of resources.
That said, no one is debating that there are inefficiencies in the healthcare system, that costs are growing unsustainably, and that the supply and demand trends will continue to impact healthcare access in the long run. Several factors are expected to drive the increase in demand for healthcare services. Primarily, there is a growing aging population. The US Census Bureau expects the US population to grow by 10% by 2032, and that the number of people over age 65 will increase by 48%. The achievement of certain public health goals, such as weight reduction and smoking cessation, and ongoing innovation in technology and treatments, will extend average life spans, and be driving factors in the growth of the 65+ age group. The aging population will also impact the supply side of the equation, as 1/3 of all active doctors today will be over 65 in the next decade, and many will likely retire.
Telemedicine is at the intersection of improving access to healthcare while reducing costs
Telehealth is a broad term describing the use of technology by providers and patients to remotely manage care, either through live communication or other digital information exchange, such as small ECG monitors that can track a patient’s heart rate from home. Telemedicine, a subclassification of telehealth, specifically refers to a virtual doctor appointment between a patient and physician—via phone or computer, using video, talk, or text. Telemedicine addresses two of the most critical unmet needs in our economy: access to care, and healthcare cost reduction. Because of this, it’s one of the fastest growing themes in healthcare, and Teladoc is leading the way.
Teladoc connects excess supply of physician time to patients that need it, 24/7
Teladoc’s core telemedicine service is meant to be utilized for non-life-threatening common illnesses, such as sinus infections, allergies, or urinary tract infections. Often people suffering from these illnesses can’t get an appointment to see their regular physician for weeks. However, some physicians may have downtime due to a surplus of physicians in their area. Because these visits are conducted remotely, the physicians can be “distributed” more effectively across a wider reach of patients. When a doctor is needed, the patient logs in, requests an appointment, and can typically get one within 10 minutes. Teladoc offers these visits via phone, computer, or smart devices. Behavioral health patients can even have appointments with a therapist through texting. If the patient needs a prescription, the physician can have it ordered to the nearest pharmacy immediately. This entire process saves the patient a trip to the doctor. By staying home, the patient also reduces exposure to the illnesses of other patients in the waiting room.