The World Economic Forum have stated that “Healthcare ought to be driven by a relentless focus on delivering outcomes that truly matter to patients and to society in a financially sustainable manner.” So what are the outcomes that truly matter to patients?
This is a question that Dr. Lior Baruch, Medical Director at Cigna, has been asking about telehealth: “What is telehealth good for? How can we make someone’s day better through telehealth?”
Research suggests that there are various factors associated with successful telehealth applications, including cost savings, sustainability, user acceptance, and adequate financing. From a user’s point of view, improved access and avoidance of travel, particularly for those in remote areas, have also been cited as key criteria of a successful telehealth solution.
In recent conversation, Dr. Baruch deliberated as to whether this idea of success refers to a specialist providing a clinical solution to a health issue, or whether it also includes giving a user peace of mind and reassurance. “Is a telehealth consultation for those in rural, underfunded, or under-structured areas going to directly solve the user’s problem? Or is it really part of the Cigna pillar ‘peace of mind’?”
“Telehealth is not out there to replace face-to-face or Emergency Room consultations.” he commented. “However, it can bring peace of mind in certain scenarios. Take a recent example in Brazil when new parents used telehealth to speak to a doctor and were reassured that their newborn, who was suffering from diarrhoea, didn’t need to be taken to the emergency room but could instead be looked after by the parents in the comfort of their own home.”
There are, states Dr. Baruch, several uses of telehealth that go beyond facilitating user access to health care. These include the aforementioned reassurance, as well as clinician communication, personal chronic condition management, and specialist referral. “In Chile,” explained Dr. Baruch, “customers are using telehealth to speak to a doctor and be referred. They call telehealth, explain their symptoms, and the physician on the line then refers them to the appropriate medical specialist. Telehealth acts as a funnel; directing patients to the specialist they need to see.”
In terms of advances and improvements in clinical communication, teleradiology has arguably led the way. Clinicians are now using telehealth solutions to share X-ray results, discuss diagnoses, and facilitate peer review. They are fast becoming an essential part of modern radiology practice; the technology is being used to enhance the communication between medical professionals and lead to improved efficiency and collaboration.
As telehealth progresses, doctors and patients alike are finding more and more uses for its services. Elements of telehealth are being integrated into current health care offerings, and as such, are facilitating additional services to clinicians and customers that, rather than replacing face-to-face consultations, are enhancing the experience, improving efficiency, and in many cases offering instant communication, reassurance, and peace of mind.
 Value in Healthcare Laying the Foundation for Health System Transformation. World Economic Forum. April 2017.
 Zanaboni P, Wootton R. Adoption of telemedicine: from pilot stage to routine delivery. BMC Med Inform Decision Making. 2012;12:1. doi:10.1186/1472-6947-12-1.