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The Doctor Will Text You Now

Technology will continue to play a powerful role in the future of medicine, not just in the direct delivery of care, but also in communication within the care system. This includes doctor/patient interactions, which are diversifying away from strict reliance on the exam room. Health plans are taking notice, with a shift from some limited pilots of telemedicine to broad based rollouts by insurers including WellPoint and Aetna.

GfK has been seeing a similar phenomenon, as shown in our recent findings1 that nearly half of people surveyed have had non-face-to-face interaction with their doctor. Most of these occur by phone—and this is important because people can tell it’s actually their doctor speaking to them and not an assistant, say, writing an email. Text and Skype have a measurable presence as a means of communication, as well.

It appears that their experiences with remote care isn’t driving people away—about half would be interested in getting remote care instead of going into the doctor’s office, assuming there were no cost implication for them.

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Yet there is a group of people who are not as receptive. One fifth would not try it, and one third are, at best, neutral about remote consultation. Quality of care is central—folks have concerns about getting an accurate diagnosis or proper treatment.

However, the feeling of moving away from the connectedness of the experience is also important: many are turned off by the impersonal aspect.   Privacy, while mentioned by many, does not come close to leading the list of concerns.

Who cares? Everyone in the health care system should. Depending on who gets there first with system development and payment strategies, it could affect market share and revenue for providers and payers alike. Some of the best known names in health care have gotten into it: Mayo launched the app “Better,” which promises a simplified and personalized health care experience. And there’s a new wave of third party players such as Teledoc, MDLive and American Well Corp that partner with traditional insurance companies.

Concerns about remote consultation

The pace of change in this area of care is dramatic—and the jury is out on the limitations both in terms of consumer acceptance and quality of care outcomes.   It may prove that a middle road for when, how, and for whom remote care is used is most successful as measured by both satisfaction and safety. We recommend further investigation in order to optimize the experience. For example, how do outcomes differ if telemedicine is used for making diagnoses versus monitoring patient progress?  Are there certain medical conditions that lend themselves to this technology? What is the tradeoff between no care (if providers are not available or the patient lives in a remote location) and some care via telemedicine?

The players that find a convincing combination of quality outcomes and convenience will likely take home the prize…and have a substantial effect on health care financing and patients’ quality of life, alike.

Liz Reyer is Vice President of GfK’s Financial Service. For more information you may contact her at

  1. GfK OmniWeb survey, March 2014
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