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The move to mobile healthcare: Revisiting the primary care house call

Everything old is new again. Almost.

Consider at-home primary care. Just as patients did more than a century ago, patients today visit their primary care physician in their homes. And physicians are collecting patient information — again, from the patient's home.

But this time around, 21st-century technology allows all this to happen remotely and supports the collection of data the early 20th-century doctor couldn't even imagine.

COVID-19 has been a significant driver in the adoption of mobile healthcare. According to a 2020 McKinsey report, overall telehealth use was 78 times higher than right before the start of the pandemic.1

Nevertheless, this virtual care trend has been building for years. As early as 2016, a FAIR Health report stated that private insurance claims for telehealth services grew 53%  — more than any other care venue.2

As mobile care continues its upward trend, primary care physicians need to be prepared to incorporate mobile health into their practice in 2022 and beyond.

What are mobile healthcare services?

Mobile health typically refers to a patient's use of wireless (and wired) devices or trackers, such as smartphones or biometric sensors, to access services, receive support and manage or monitor health issues.3,4

Mobile healthcare refers to a range of services, including:

  • Remote patient monitoring (RPM)
  • Disease management apps
  • Targeted text messaging
  • Telehealth (sometimes considered a distinctive service)

An important component of mobile healthcare is data collection, with mobile technology delivering health and metabolic information in real time.

"Mobile health is about getting data or delivering in-person care in the home," explains Rakesh Patel, M.D., chief executive officer of Neighborhood Healthcare, a member organization of Health Center Partners of Southern California.

It can involve RPM, remote acquisition of lab or vital signs data or "perform other parts of a visit that cannot be done virtually."

Trends driving mobile care

Mobile health provides primary care physicians with various tools that adapt to a changing primary care environment. Among the trends driving this change:5,6

  • Corporate medicine competition
  • Reimbursement changes
  • Physician shortages
  • Patient demand
  • A move toward healthcare at home
  • The transition to value-based care

The telehealth house call

Telehealth addresses an array of challenges in medicine. Among its many benefits are:

  • The potential to improve care
  • Improved patient care experience
  • Reduced costs and an easier life for primary care physicians (PCPs)

Telehealth has leveled off since the height of the pandemic, but it's becoming a permanent fixture in healthcare.

As the McKinsey report notes, by 2021, telehealth use "settled" to 38 times pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, investment in virtual care has "skyrocketed," with the level of 2020 venture capital investment three times that of 2017.1

Like the old-fashioned house call, telehealth allows physicians to provide the right care at the right time, in the right place. Dr. Patel explains that it enhances the patient experience by offering more convenient appointments, which reduces wait times, travel times and associated costs.

Telehealth also makes practices more efficient. It can provide ways to manage patients with fewer staff resources and, in turn, reduce staffing costs. For example, having fewer patients in the waiting room means less time spent managing the logistics of physical patient care.

Remote patient monitoring (RPM) gains traction

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly accelerated the acceptance of RPM. Deployed correctly, it can help reduce acute care use and improve quality of life.7

In fact, one study showed that RPM reduced the risk of hospital readmissions by 76% — with patient satisfaction scores topping 90%.8

Additionally, RPM allows physicians to collect a wealth of patient-generated data that can inform decision-making.9 The data comes through a variety of routes, including fitness wearables and biosensors.

In a 2020 MSI International survey, 68% of physicians said they strongly intend to use RPM, citing, among other things, improved patient outcomes, better compliance rates and patients taking increased ownership over their health.10

Patients are also more content. A 2021 MSI International survey found that 80% of U.S. adults have a favorable view of RPM, citing convenience, accuracy and efficiency. Moreover, 65% to 70% of adults said they'd be willing to participate in an RPM program with their care providers.11

Telehealth & RPM open new revenue streams

Planning and executing a strategic telehealth and RPM program helps physician practices retain patients and grow the practice from within their current patient panels.

Potential benefits include the following:

  • RPM can offer a new revenue source for primary care practices. By one estimate of 35 patients on remote monitoring, a practice can add about $45,000 in net revenue annually12
  • When using telehealth for minor issues and follow-up, practices may increase revenue by 20%12
  • Telehealth can provide a buffer against ongoing consolidation; it allows physicians to continue their relationships with patients even if a clinic location closes

Want to learn more about the financial benefits of telehealth? Check out our white paper, Leveraging an untapped resource for revenue generation: Telehealth.

The consumerization of telehealth

The pandemic merely accelerated existing trends.

"The consumerization of healthcare is the primary trend driving change across the industry," says Dr. Patel.

"There was growing momentum before COVID, but reimbursement was challenging. With COVID, we've seen a significant expansion of telehealth services due to its safety and convenience for both patients and staff, as well as changes in reimbursement," he says.

"Telehealth is what patients are expecting from their healthcare providers."

The numbers don't lie:

  • 25% of respondents to a 2019 American Well survey said they would switch from their current primary care physician to one who offered video visits13
  • In a 2020 Kyruus survey, 40% of patients indicated that access to virtual care was a key consideration when selecting a provider14
  • In that same survey, half of the millennial and Gen X respondents said they would switch physicians to have this service14

"After two years of this pandemic, PCPs should have the IT systems and staff support to provide telehealth," Dr. Patel observes.

The biggest challenges relate to scheduling in order to meet the needs of patients. Many practices have moved to hybrid schedules to allow in-person and telehealth appointments throughout the day. However, Dr. Patel counsels that this requires nimble, well-trained support staff. 

Mobile health connects you to patients

Offering patients mobile health options creates new opportunities for connection and engagement.

Telehealth also allows providers to connect with patients who struggle to come to a physician's office. As a result, primary care practices can close more health gaps, says Dr. Patel, who works with underserved patient populations and marginalized communities throughout Southern California.

This not only enhances patient health; it can help improve the health of the practice.

"Before telehealth, our no-show rate for patients receiving behavioral health in-person visits was over 30%. With telehealth, we've seen this reduced to less than 15%," he says.

The future of mobile health

Mobile health will become a more significant part of delivering care and supporting patients in the future.

Some figures that support this prediction:

  • Consulting firm Frost & Sullivan forecasts a seven-fold growth in telehealth by 202515
  • In 2016, seven million patients used a remote device to monitor their health. By 2020, that number topped 23 million, and it's expected to jump to 30 million by 2024, according to an MSI International report10
  • COVID-19 spurred physician adoption of RPM technology, with 20% of physicians using it in 2020, which was double that of 2018 usage16
  • 81% of physicians plan to accelerate their introduction of new digital technologies. Another 63% say they will make moderate or significant investments in these technologies over the next three years17

As telehealth visits become more common, remote monitoring devices become more portable, reliable and affordable.9

Meanwhile, improved access to real-time data will be transformative as RPM allows the collection and analysis of massive amounts of patient information. This will result in faster, more accurate decision-making and follow-up, allowing physicians to better manage patients with chronic conditions and likely making telehealth visits more effective.9, 18

Primary care house calls (telehealth), informed by relevant data (RPM), help enhance the patient and provider experience, control costs, improve outcomes and strengthen the practice's bottom line. There is simply no going back.

Provide care, perform exams & stay connected to your patients with telehealth & virtual care. See our mobile health services >


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