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Retailers, insurance providers, and software companies are fast and furiously forming partnerships in the telehealth space. Explore some of the implications for patients and telemedicine providers and find out what we can expect in 2019.
Over the past year, insurance providers, pharmacies, and technology companies large and small have been forming partnerships with telehealth companies right and left. And if 2018 was any indication of momentum, the partnerships won’t be slowing down in 2019.
Its clear retailers are seeing the potential of the direct-to-consumer healthcare market and jumping on board trying to carve a niche for themselves.
You may be wondering, what does this mean for my patients and my telemedicine practice? Doctors and nurse practitioners are likely to see a growing demand in the telehealth space - increasing job security and opportunities in an alternative career path that is only becoming more prevalent. Patients and employer health plans will also be more likely to recognize the far-reaching benefits of telehealth services with greater accessibility and lower costs.
Here, we review the most important telehealth partnerships from the last year, and how they might impact the telemedicine industry at large.
The latest wave of telemedicine partnerships has involved pharmacies and big retailers attempting to capture the direct-to-consumer healthcare market. And the race is truly on between pharmacy competitors. Last summer, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and CVS all made telehealth initiative announcements within weeks of one another. The jury’s still out on who’s program is rising to the top, but it’s great progress towards improving patient access to healthcare.
The partnership between Doctor on Demand and Walmart began as a covered service for Walmart associates several years ago, growing into a pilot program with virtual exam rooms in 22 Walmart stores around the country. The latest development is a new seasonal campaign, the first of its kind in telemedicine, between the retail giant, Doctor on Demand, and English manufacturer RB - maker of Mucinex, Delsym, and Airborne.
Launching in late 2018, just in time for cold and flu season, the program offered no-cost virtual care visits to customers who purchased RB products through Walmart stores. “So, if a customer tries the medicine, and it doesn’t work or they still have questions, they now have free access to talking with a doctor about their issue,” stated Doctor on Demand CEO, Hill Ferguson (as told to retail news outlet PYMNTS).
There has been no publicly released information about the campaign’s success, but the partnership is an innovative step in introducing customers who may not have had prior telehealth exposure to the benefits of telemedicine consultations.
In July of 2018, Rite Aid announced a second attempt at telemedicine kiosk implementation with telehealth company InTouch Health. The pharmacy plans to leverage the InTouch platform for “alternative care sites” in Rite Aid pharmacies nationwide and potentially in Albertson’s grocery stores after completion of a merger between the two retailers.
Telehealth kiosks are being viewed as a disruptive healthcare delivery platform on par with what ATMs did for on-the-go banking. “In a time where our industry is rapidly evolving, we see an opportunity to bring virtual care to patients in a whole new way that intersects with patients in convenient locations like Rite Aid pharmacies,” said InTouch Health’s CEO, Joseph M. DeVivo, in a press release.
Walgreen’s announced its own telemedicine partnership last summer with telehealth platform MD Live among other healthcare providers. The pharmacy’s new “Find Care” app aims at connecting patients with healthcare providers both online and in person. Visits with an MD Live physician are quoted at $59 without insurance and with a behavioral health therapist visit at $99.
Within weeks of both the Rite-Aid and Walgreen’s announcements, CVS rolled out an expansion of its CVS Pharmacy app to offer patients access to Teladoc telehealth professionals 24/7. Minute Clinic Video Visits start at $59 and during an initial test of the app, 95% of patients described themselves as “highly satisfied” with the quality of telehealth care, convenience, and overall experience. Video visits can be used for minor illness, minor injuries, or skin conditions, and as of today, are available in 19 states. While the program does not accept insurance, the website states this is on the horizon.
With lower cost treatments that can potentially keep patients healthier and out of the costly ER, insurance companies are seeing the benefits of providing telehealth services to their subscribers.
Consumers with updated Samsung phones and Anthem insurance (the nation’s second largest payer) will benefit from a recently announced partnership between the two companies and telehealth provider, American Well. Through the Samsung Health app, patients can access the LiveHealth online portal, another service offering round-the-clock medical care from board-certified health care providers.
While the tool was originally used for minor conditions like cold and cough, the companies have seen increasing use of the app for more complex presentations like high blood pressure and insomnia. With programs like LiveHealth growing in popularity, it wouldn’t be surprising to see other mobile phone manufacturers looking to compete in the telemedicine space in the future.
In addition to its CVS collaboration, last year Teladoc also announced a partnership with insurance provider Partners Healthcare. The Boston-based insurance company will provide urgent care video telemedicine services to commercial health plan subscribers via the Teladoc platform.
As the telehealth industry grows, mobile phone and software giants are finding ways to incorporate their technology into the field.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs is one of the largest providers of connected care and recent partnerships with Philips and T-Mobile plans to expand its reach. The partnerships are part of an initiative begun in 2017 to create a telemedicine network that can provide care for veterans outside of VA hospitals, particularly in patient’s homes. Philips’ telemedicine platform is powering telehealth services at American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts while T-Mobile is offering free access to the VA’s mHealth app to veteran subscribers.
The partnerships are just two of many that the VA is exploring with major phone companies and corporations.
Telehealth partnerships are not just for the startup space. Microsoft has gotten in the game as well, partnering with Walgreens to connect customers with pharmacies via mHealth devices. While this partnership is still in the works, their goals include using AI to help patients and providers determine the appropriate avenues for care. Interestingly, the pilot program includes launching 12 “digital health corners” in Walgreens pharmacies that will sell mHealth devices and hardware.
The explosion of telemedicine partnerships among notable retailers, insurers, and telehealth players only solidifies telemedicine as the next phase of future-forward healthcare delivery. Patient care will no longer be restricted to hospital and clinic walls and healthcare providers will be faced with greater options for practicing medicine leveraging new technology.
Consider your role in this future healthcare landscape and sign up with Enzyme Health to learn more about how telemedicine could play a role in your future career pursuits.