Industry Voices—Teladoc-Livongo merger means virtual care will finally reach the most vulnerable patients

Woman having telehealth visit on her laptop
Not everyone has access to a one-to-one type of virtual care, with the most vulnerable people most often being left behind. The Teladoc-Livongo deal helps to address this, Jon Bloom, M.D., writes. (Getty/Drazen Zigic)

There have been serious questions about whether the recent boom in virtual care is just a blip.

And those concerns are valid. After all, what good is a new type of healthcare if it’s not expanding access to the patients who are hardest to reach? 

When people question virtual care, however, they tend to be talking about one-to-one models of care, like video chats or phone calls. Whether or not we are in a pandemic, doctors only have so much time in a day for solo interactions with their patients, and it’s not always the right care at the right time for a particular patient.

What’s more, not everyone has access to this type of virtual care, with the most vulnerable people most often being left behind.  

There are other popular types of virtual care, but they, too, are imperfect on their own.

Fitbits and Apple Watches are cool, and millions of people wear them, but the remote monitoring they provide requires the patient to raise their hand when there’s a need for medical intervention.

For example, NBA players are wearing Oura smart rings to monitor body temperature and blood-volume pulse for changes that could indicate they have COVID-19, but these athletes have atypical access to medical professionals who are available to address concerning findings.

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And while this is a good use of technology, we have to ensure that everyone has access to great virtual care—not just those who can afford a device that is an unattainable luxury for many Americans. On top of that, it’s not enough to expect a patient to reach out to a healthcare professional when a monitoring system alerts them that something’s off. 

The recent announcement that Teladoc and Livongo are merging sends a powerful signal about where virtual care can go.

Teladoc is a leader in the one-to-one virtual care model and Livongo is a leader in the scalable, one-to-many virtual care model. Together, they can combine Teladoc’s large roster of providers who specialize in one-on-one virtual interactions with Livongo’s large-scale population monitoring and support, ensuring more patients than ever can get the care they need when they need it most, keeping them healthy at home. 

This merger will also help assuage concerns about physician burnout around virtual care. It’s just as important for doctors to know which patients they don’t need to talk to as which patients they do.

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Large-scale, passive remote monitoring—systems that don’t require continual review by patients or providers—enables more timely and targeted interactions. And then this is where the secret sauce of the new Teladoc will truly be: learning to identify those critical moments when providers can offer a specific intervention most effectively.  

Further, in contrast to the many remote patient monitoring companies on the market, partnering directly with payers allows Teledoc to do so via value-based contracts, tying payments directly to outcomes and savings, which benefits everyone.

COVID-19 has accelerated many trends in healthcare, and we’ve taken important steps forward in virtual care in just a matter of months. But it would be a huge mistake to let recent advancements be little more than a fad born from necessity, which is why we must fully build out a system that also recognizes the critical role passive virtual care plays in keeping everyone, including the most vulnerable, safer and healthier.

The merger of Teladoc and Livongo serves as a model for virtual care, and following it will help us all be more resilient, not only throughout the pandemic but also in preventing and managing future crises.

Jon Bloom, M.D., is the CEO of Podimetrics, a virtual care management company with the leading solution to help prevent diabetic amputations, one of the most debilitating and costly complications of diabetes.

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