Rick Newell, MD MPH is CEO of Inflect Health, Chief Transformation Officer at Vituity, and passionate about driving change in healthcare.

At the intersection of healthcare and technology, we’re actively monitoring telehealth’s post-pandemic trajectory. McKinsey reports 46% of consumers used telehealth solutions in 2020, up fourfold from just the prior year.

Although previously telehealth was viewed as a separate field of medicine, now telehealth should be viewed as just healthcare where the traditional in-person patient-provider interaction occurs remotely and is facilitated by technology. It’s not a different level of care; rather, it is delivering patients the care they need, when they need it, where they need it and in the manner they desire to receive it. In the future, I believe that conceivably a majority (potentially even 90%-95%) of primary care interactions could be done without an in-person visit. So telehealth’s here to stay, yet how can we maximize its impact?

Wellness Vs Illness

The hope is that the consumer becomes the biggest winner as healthcare continues to evolve. Then I’d like to see gains for the other stakeholders within the industry, including the healthcare providers, health systems and those paying for our care. A key component of telehealth’s expanded reach will be longitudinal health management. Historically, telehealth, and much of healthcare in general, has been episodic and transactional. Yet telehealth provides a tremendous opportunity to change that paradigm to longitudinal and relational.

Wearables and at-home testing enhance telehealth’s potential. They give consumers and their healthcare providers access to real-time results and feedback to make the patient a partner in their own care. They also give providers the ability to manage more complex and chronic diseases and further enhance their ability to be more relational and longitudinal in how they care for their patients — from anywhere.

Yet even with these technologies at our disposal, all healthcare should remain local. If innovators can offer a wide array of services and have the geographic footprint to integrate them into the existing local healthcare systems, then we’ll see wider adoption and a shift in how we provide these services. With these technologies, sufficient infrastructure and engaged healthcare providers, we can shift healthcare’s primary focus from “How do we heal the sick?” to “Just how healthy can we help humans become?”

Information And Diagnostics

The main factor when optimizing health is the seamless and secure transmission of information between everyone involved in the healthcare ecosystem, from patient to provider to the payers, and beyond. If we can securely store, send and analyze, we can ensure greater health and better care delivery.

Here, it’s crucial to not just gather information but to understand what’s a signal versus what is noise. What’s the threshold for urgency? What information is most important? Who should be notified and when?

We’re approaching the next wave of devices that allow providers to enlist patients and family members in more in-depth physical exams, synchronously and/or asynchronously. This could provide a more comprehensive exam of the throat, heart, lungs, ear, nose, etc. In addition, as technology advances and the price-point becomes more reasonable, saliva, urine and blood tests could be performed quickly in the home and deliver even more information to the healthcare provider and further enhance remote care delivery.

Solving For Trust

The key to all of this is protecting the trust and protecting the sacred patient-provider relationship. Trust will occur with high-performing partnerships between patients, providers and technology companies. In general, tech doesn’t have healthcare expertise, and healthcare doesn’t have tech expertise. So there needs to be a collaboration between the sectors to drive transformation. In addition, patients, families and their advocates must be enlisted in the development and delivery process to create trust in the technology as well.

The patient and provider relationship will always be sacred. Without gaining buy-in from providers and patients, and facilitating trusting relationships between them, all the telehealth and novel technologies in the world won’t reach the potential of access, convenience and positive outcomes.

With telehealth, the hope is that the relationships among healthcare consumers, providers and technologies will evolve into something more closely resembling the more intimate, multiple-touchpoint patient-provider relationship of a century ago. Except instead of only including house calls, hospitals and office visits, now those touchpoints will include text, email, phone and video.

By bringing people together to try and make the vision become a reality — entrepreneurs, innovators, technologists, funders, providers and consumers — we can create a thriving, transformational healthcare ecosystem.


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