Telemedicine is the Vanilla of Digital Health: An Anecdotal Analysis of the State of Telemedicine

telemedicine is vanilla

 

An Anecdotal Analysis of the State of Telemedicine

Wow that was a mouthful - but trust is it's worth reading.

Why we (think we) have the authority to say telemedicine is vanilla: Klara started as a telemedicine platform in the heart of Berlin, Germany in 2013. We were telemedicine experts. We were one of the first companies in Europe to introduce telemedicine. The company first launched a patient app allowing people with skin diseases to easily get a diagnosis and treatment plan from board certified dermatologists within 24 hours. Some people still think this is what we do (edit: we are not a telemedicine company). But why?

After launching in 10 different countries and handling thousands of patient cases the team realized, not only B2C (patient side) distribution was not scalable but also patients were not coming back as often as expected. We took a hard personal look at the viability of telemedicine - and perhaps, the idea that "telemedicine" is vastly understating the power of digital health in its entirety.

We argue that digital health is much more than 'virtual consult' tools. The doctor-patient relationship will never be replaced entirely by bots. However, it can be enhanced through platforms like Klara.

Painting with a Broad Brush

Let me keep this straight, we love the idea of telemedicine, and there is great value in delivering medicine to previously individuals living in remote communities to people who lack the ability to schedule appointments within their busy lives. We get it. Everyone gets it - in theory. 

But the idea that telemedicine will replace all medicine, doctors' salaries will depreciate and the entire industry will succumb to machines is a sci-fi fantasy (please, future readers do correct me if I end up being wrong). 

The challenges with telemedicine arise with nature of healthcare: it is patient-centered. We need people to conduct a thorough analysis of a patients' care needs. If anything, we need to encourage building dialog and lifelong relationships among patients and their care teams even more. We prove with our current version of Klara (connecting patients with their care teams through messaging) that efficient communication is vital to better outcomes and satisfaction. 

Slow Adoption

The adoption of telemedicine has certainly not been the way it is expected. Most of the providers adopted telemedicine as a way to treat new patient base online, but only in their free time. It became more as a way to generate additional revenue on top of their existing incomes. In my opinion, it brought a big problem into the system: telemedicine is only practiced when providers could free up some time from their already busy schedule, which is a big push back for something like telemedicine to become mainstream.

Freelance Mindset

Additionally, it has been consumed more of an individual freelance project by providers. Think of this for an instance – providers login to some app, go through patient questionnaires and picture, provide diagnosis and treatment, and collect payment. Almost like Upwork.com or Freelancer.com. I am not saying this is right or wrong however it is completely opposite the way patients are treated in the real world where in their encounter with a medical practice they are well coordinated by a care team rather than just an individual.

Novelty Factor

If something is serious medically, patients want full attention and in-person care. Therefore, telemedicine may be used in 'less-serious' situations - which is a fair use care. However, this mindset associates the patients experience with telemedicine less serious and less personal. Therefore, patients are less likely to stay loyal to the initial telemedicine visit provider. Continuity of care is important to holistic, patient-centric treatment. With a telemedicine-first approach, physicians  may not be able to provide quality care and reap the benefits of new patient acquisition AND patient retention

Check out our piece on how using Yelp, Zocdoc and Klara can drastically improve your patient retention.

You Might Like Vanilla Ice Cream

...and that's great. Most people like vanilla ice cream. Most people like telemedicine. It's a great concept, novel, interesting etc. However, we have to look at industry disruption from the perspective of physician workflows, patient (user) preferences and how it fits within the makeup of the healthcare industry. Is telemedicine really the end-all be-all of systematic change?

Chances are, your first flavor of ice cream you tried as a child was vanilla. It was mild. The most widely available flavor in the grocery store is, well, vanilla. But Vanilla opened the gateway to try a variety of favorites that you may not have thought of trying before: strawberry, cookie dough, Italian gelato, shaved iced. 

Ok, you get the idea. Telemedicine has opened the pathway for all sorts of digital health technologies to enter the game: ones with better workflow integration, application and usefulness. 

Klara is Pistachio

...because we like pistachio. We like to make physicians, staff and patients think about healthcare operations differently. Learn about how Klara messaging can benefit your practice today.