3 lessons for direct-to-consumer telehealth

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Direct-to-consumer telehealth initiatives are often slow to catch on, experts say.

As more healthcare providers are launching telehealth programs, hospital executives and vendors have a few words of wisdom—namely, exercise patience.

Direct-to-consumer telehealth is making a push to offer more healthcare services to patients that are intrigued by the convenience of the technology. Last month, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center expanded its AnywhereCare initiative statewide. Northwell Health (formally North Shore-LIJ) made a similar pivot, rolling out a consumer-facing telehealth model in January.

A recent survey by the American Telehealth Association found 83% of hospital executives plan to invest in telehealth systems and services to outpace their competition and broaden their market reach.

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Telemedicine executives at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Intermountain Healthcare and Cleveland Clinic shared the lessons learned from their own direct-to-consumer programs at the ATA’s conference in Orlando, underscoring the time it takes to get users on board and the importance of sending making the right hiring decisions. Some of the key takeaways include:

Lower your expectations

Although a recent survey by Nemours Children’s Hospital shows the majority of parents are interested in telehealth services, that doesn’t mean they will come running to a new service.

“You’re definitely going to be underwhelmed before you’re going to be overwhelmed,” said Shayan Vyas, M.D., medical director of telemedicine for the Nemours Children’s Hospital, according to mHealth Intelligence.

Participation is often a slow burn, added Peter Antall, M.D., CMO at American Well, which helped launch initiatives in Nemours, Intermountain and the Cleveland Clinic. In a separate panel, CEO Roy Schoenberg, M.D., added that early research for direct-to-consumer health savings looks promising, but the approach is still new, according to Politico eHealth.

On Monday, American Well announced Samsung devices would include a telehealth app to allow virtual consultations.

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Hire the right staff  

Beyond the technical aspects of a direct-to-consumer telehealth program, hospitals that are diving into this sector need to hire the right clinicians. One Nemours official said they initially had physicians split time between telehealth and in-person visits, which “didn’t work out well,” mHealth Intelligence reported.

But quality is still paramount, said Will Daines, M.D., medical director of Intermountain’s Connect Care service

“You shouldn’t hire for a telehealth program someone you wouldn’t want to see in person,” he said.

Better at-home tests are the future

Schoenberg and MDLive CEO Scott Decker also agreed that the ability to conduct at-home testing will be key to the success of future telehealth efforts, particularly when trying to reduce the costs associated with in-person care. 

“If we’re going to do a more holistic view of patient care, it just has to be part of the model,” Decker said to Politico.