For all the stress the pandemic has put on some industries, it has created rapid growth in others. Who knew that Zoom would become a household word or that masks would become the year's hottest fashion accessory?
Telehealth has emerged as one of the fastest growing industries in the wake of COVID-19. A $21.55 billion market in 2019, it's expected to reach $123 billion by 2030.
With growth like that, there are scores of entrepreneurs out there waiting to get on board. Here's how they can do so:
1. Start With the Platform
Once a telehealth platform has been established, a number of different services can be provided on it. The tough part is building a system that connects doctors with patients, patients with medications or other critical services; building on something once it's live is much easier.
Healthcare needs are constantly growing and changing. Making the initial investment in a telehealth platform allows you to add new services as called for by your audience.
Nurx, a telehealth company, was launched in 2014 to provide patients with online access to providers and sexual health services like birth control. The company added prescriptions for other service lines after, including emergency contraception. After learning that its patients were also looking for treatments and advice on chronic headaches, Nurx added a migraine treatment line.
2. Consider Connectivity
While most households in the United States have smartphones and tablets, they may not have constant connectivity. Telehealth has a need for speed, making 5G technology vital to its growth.
Telecom companies are working to expand 5G coverage, particularly in rural areas. With the rural population of the country sitting at 59.5 million, each step forward in expanding coverage is a step forward for telehealth. Rural populations also tend to be older and have higher rates of chronic conditions, making telehealth a particular need.
The Northeast Missouri Health Council, an organization serving a predominantly rural population, teamed up with U.S. Cellular, T-Mobile and AT&T to offer patients free hotspots. Without the fear of exceeding their data plan, patients could confer with their doctor safely from home, laying the groundwork for a long-lasting telehealth network.
3. Build for the IoT
There are tremendous opportunities for entrepreneurs in mobile healthcare. Much of this potential lies in remote patient monitoring devices, or RPM.
People can now monitor their blood pressure, glucose levels, and sleep patterns using at-home hardware. Some smartwatches, like Fitbit's Sense, can even take an EKG. Patients can then share data with their doctor in real time via their mobile device.
Realize that RPM is a two-way street. Patients who share data with their doctors need to then discuss results with them.
Reliability and over-capture of data have been two roadblocks with RPM. Are patients using their monitors correctly? Are those monitors recording data accurately?
Patients need instruction on how to use these devices and interpret results to have meaningful discussions with their medical providers. After all, patients and providers are using them to monitor life-threatening conditions, such as congestive heart failure, COPD, and diabetes.
Patients and providers' willingness to invest in and use RPMs is rapidly increasing. Insurers are clearing the way for reimbursing virtual visits based on data.
Entrepreneurs can get in on RPMs by focusing their attention on the Internet of Things. IoT devices are embedded with sensors and connected to complex networks of hardware and software. Doctors and patients are looking for devices that are reliable and inexpensive, two attributes that can be difficult to square in a single device.
4. Educate and Integrate
Telehealth solutions do not exist in a vacuum, even if they can be used outside of medical facilities. Entrepreneurs need to ensure their telehealth tools can integrate both with healthcare providers' systems as well as healthcare staff's workflows.
A recent survey of healthcare providers found that 56% have implemented telemedicine. Of those, 27% are building their own platform and 29% are working with vendors.
Many healthcare facilities use legacy software that is far from "plug and play." This is particularly true when it comes to medical records systems, where both regulatory and technical concerns preclude easy integration with other technologies.
A related issue is provider education. Telehealth systems must be usable by busy medical professionals, many of whom are accustomed to seeing patients in the same room. Tutorials on video conferencing etiquette are every bit as important as those about how to use the software itself.
Room for Many
Telehealth offers advantages to everyone involved. Patients enjoy lower costs, greater access and convenience, and more flexibility when choosing providers. Providers lower their overhead and their exposure to disease while improving patient satisfaction.
As for entrepreneurs? Telehealth offers opportunities in software, remote monitoring hardware, connectivity, and more. Figuring out how to design and develop a product or service in any of those categories can buy you a seat on the flight.
Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher. A graduate of Iowa State University, he's now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant. Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, and Forbes.com, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he's also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter (@LarryAlton3), at LinkedIn.com/in/larryalton, and on his website, LarryAlton.com. Read Larry Alton's Reports — More Here.
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