Dr. Yulun Wang, chairman, founder & chief innovation officer of InTouch Health believes that senior living should be an extension of the healthcare system, with telehealth capabilities allowing senior living to care for chronic conditions and keep people healthier than hospitals can.

In his NIC Talk, The Future of Telemedicine, at the 2019 NIC Fall Conference, he opens with: “I’m here to tell you about why, and how, the healthcare delivery system that we have today is going to be virtualized. This is important to you because if you have a virtualized healthcare delivery system you can actually bring healthcare to the seniors as opposed to the seniors having to travel into the healthcare delivery system to get their care.”

As Dr. Wang points out, over the last 150 years, life expectancy has risen about a year for every four to five calendar years, but at a cost: increased complexity within the system. He pointed to the number of medical subspecialties, which has increased from 20 in 1970 to 150 today. Meanwhile, the number of doctors per patient is decreasing, from 7.3 per 100,000 people in 1980, to 5.0 today. With the significant rise of healthcare costs, which Dr. Wang describes as unsustainable, the challenge of providing quality care to everyone, without negatively impacting our economy, is a major one.

Dr. Wang characterizes the rise of digital technology as our fourth industrial revolution, shaking up markets and industries, and believes that healthcare, while not the first industry to be disrupted, will nevertheless feel the impact of today’s new technologies – and must embrace them in order to become better and more cost-effective.

Telehealth will allow the healthcare system to leverage new technologies to solve its greatest challenges. In today’s system, the expertise of our 150 subspecialties is scattered across the vast network of hospitals, doctor’s offices, and all sorts of brick and mortar locations. Virtual technology allows those experts to be distributed far more efficiently, while keeping frail elders out of the hospital. Dr. Wang shares a vision of the near future, in which we will have a virtual care delivery layer on top of the traditional brick and mortar layer, enabling clinicians to deliver care far beyond their geographic boundaries. “Beaming in” a clinician through the internet is possible with today’s technology – and is becoming more commonplace already.

Dr. Wang points out that a major barrier slowing the adoption of telehealth is a restrictive regulatory and reimbursement environment. But we are at an inflection point right now. Just in the past year, 40 congressional bills were introduced, and have either been passed or are in the process of being passed, that enable telehealth to be used in a wide range of applications, ranging from behavioral health to COPD, congestive heart failure, and more.

The RUSH Act, which stands for “Reducing Unnecessary Senior Hospitalizations” is close to passing this year, he said. It will allow CMS reimbursements to skilled nursing and senior living for technology, in recognition of the fact that, according to CMS, 45% of transfers from SNFs to hospitals can be avoided. Other regulatory changes, which are either already in place or on the near horizon, expand payment policies and increase payments for telemedicine.

Dr. Wang said that the use of telehealth is far from hypothetical. “Now is the time to link your senior living facilities with healthcare systems in partnership, with financial business models that work.”

This and all of the 2019 NIC Talks can now be viewed on NIC.org.