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Issues surrounding access to healthcare are a concern for individuals living in remote locations or during periods of self-quarantine. These concerns have rapidly expanded the demand for telehealth. This has likely motivated United Healthcare’s Optum to consider expanding their range of telehealth services.

Why the Push For Telehealth?

Virtual mental health services greatly reduce any barrier to the delivery of healthcare. Beyond pandemic concerns and remote patients, this technology also allows people who have a stigma about mental health to still receive treatments. The delivery of medical services is in the privacy of their home.

Looking beyond the potential purchase of AbleTo by Optum, telehealth is currently a popular topic in the medical community. Advances in telecommunication technology has pushed the development of telehealth services. This is allowing people to more easily gain access to physicians. Visiting healthcare providers is a challenge for people who live in more remote or underserved locations as well as during pandemics.

Telehealth or telemedicine is a broad term that includes everything from live video feeds and telephone consultations to digital CT scans and remote monitoring of intensive-care units (ICUs). This technology, beyond behavioral health, also commonly used by other physician specialties such as dermatology, infectious disease, dermatology and radiology. A positive attribute of this technology is that healthcare providers can often more quickly find a diagnosis.

The relaxing of HIPAA regulations has also provided a boost to telehealth services.

United Health (Optum) & Telehealth:

Over the last few years, United Healthcare has been in the news due to major lawsuits such as:

However, in this instance, the health provider is shifting resources in order to be on the front end of a growing trend. Like many larger corporations, as major trend shifts occur or new technologies are introduced, United Health has worked to gain access through the use of acquisitions. According to CNBC, Optum is considering purchasing the AbleTo, which provides virtual behavioral health care (telepsychiatry). Through this purchase, United Healthcare (UHC) would expand their remote mental health capabilities.

As a subsidiary of United Health, Optum delivers technology-enabled services. The acquisition of AbleTo would enhance Optum’s healthcare delivery services. With the spread of diseases like the coronavirus, there is a greater concern for infection. Unemployment rates are increasing while many individuals are forced to stay at home. In this environment, companies that deliver virtual therapy through using modern teleconferencing technologies are in high demand.

But Does It Work?

According to the APA (American Psychological Association), remote technologies such as telepsychiatry do create better patient outcomes and higher satisfaction ratings. Other research seems to suggest that telehealth is effective and cost efficient. At the same time, it appears to lower costs while increasing a patient’s access to healthcare providers. This is an interesting finding, since the cost of healthcare and access to healthcare usually move in opposite directions.

Many medical specialties would agree that telepsychiatry services are an effective and alternative option to the standard in-person behavioral health services. For behavioral health providers, virtual psychiatry is equivalent to in-person visits in terms of:

  • the accuracy of diagnosis
  • the quality of treatment
  • client privacy and confidentiality

Other Telehealth Players:

Numerous other companies are expanding their access to telehealth. Even existing big tech companies like Google and Microsoft are expanding their teleconferencing services.

In Google’s case, the tech giant is, as of May 2020, offering its premium video conferring services for free. Some industry observers believe this move by Google is in direct response to their competition’s teleconferencing products. Zoom’s free services has become extremely popular due to the Coronavirus stay at home/shelter in place orders. A fact that Google and other tech giants have noticed.

On a similar note, Microsoft has expanded Skype’s features, which is its videoconferencing service. Now people can more easily use a built-in Skype feature called Meet Now. This feature allows people to start a video chat or meeting without having to sign up for an account or download the app. Again, this is seen as a direct response to the success of Zoom as well as the demand for video chat services during the coronavirus lockdowns and quarantines.

The expansion of video conferencing services is recognized by companies like Google and Microsoft as they both move more aggressively into the healthcare marketplace.

About the Author:

ABCS (Advanced Billing & Consulting Services) provides healthcare-focused revenue cycle management services. Check back periodically to read about update medical billing updates and industry trends. In order to reach out to them, use the following link to contact them.

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