Telehealth industry is poised to be the major disruptor in health care

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Venture capitalist Marty Felsenthal says insurers are seeking lower-cost services and may drive patients to use telehealth for primary care

The health care industry has done a remarkable job developing new technologies that have improved care.

But costs in health care continue to rise despite advances in efficiency that come with technology. Telehealth services, which are less expensive that traditional in-person doctor visits, could begin to change that cost problem.

“I think telehealth has the potential to be the major disruptor,” said Marty Felsenthal, Managing Partner of Health Velocity Capital. Felsenthal, a venture capitalist and growth stage investor focused on health care services and software, has invested in several telehealth companies and is currently on the board of MDLive.

Felsenthal was speaking at the Center for Connected Medicine’s Top of Mind 2019 Summit on a panel discussing the future of telehealth. The panel, moderated by Robert Bart, MD, Chief Medical Information Officer, UPMC, also included Eric Rock, Founder and CEO of Vivify Health, and Rob Rude, Senior Director of Network Strategy and Innovation at UnitedHealthcare.

Robert Bart, Eric Rock, Marty Felsenthal, and Rob Rude discuss telehealth
From left, Dr. Robert Bart, Eric Rock, Marty Felsenthal, and Rob Rude.

Insurers may push patients to use telehealth for primary care

Felsenthal said because telehealth services are less expensive, major health insurers may use the technology for primary care. If insurers can push patients to use their telehealth offerings as the front door to the health care systems, the payers might also be in position to drive patients to lower-cost providers for specialties and surgeries.

“That way, when a specialist visit or a surgery is needed, the insurers are in the same position to steer that patient [as large provider systems],” Felsenthal said.

“I don’t know if we’ll get there but to me that is one of the potential biggest opportunities for telehealth to drive down costs,” he said.

Has telehealth’s time finally arrived?

As evidence, consider the recent announcement that health insurer Humana is teaming up with telehealth company Doctor on Demand to offer lower-cost health plans which will rely heavily on telehealth services.

According to Fierce Healthcare, the plan “gives patients access to a dedicated primary care physician as well as access to preventive care, urgent care and behavioral health through video visits with lower monthly premiums.”

“Humana has a deep footprint and this is a payer looking to create a virtual primary care network as a way to contain cost and thinking about how care is coordinated and delivered,” Josh Berlin, principal and co-leader of consulting firm Citrin Cooperman’s health care practice, was quoted in the Fierce article as saying.

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