Teladoc: Telemedicine bellwether or bust?
Thursday, March 16, 2017
If Teladoc's 2016 annual report is telling of telemedicine's overall health then we've got ourselves a mixed bag. While the organization saw significant gains in revenue and use, it also saw a huge addition of debt.
Specifically, Teladoc's total membership increased by 55 percent to reach 17.5 million in 2016, its latest earnings report shows, and the company's revenue grew by 59 percent, totaling $123.2 million last year. But it also reported a net loss of $74.2 million in 2016 vs. $58 million in 2015 — that's more than $125 million in two years.
According to Modern Healthcare, the net loss followed the $125 million acquisition of HealthiestYou, a patient-engagement app maker with benefits lookups. Additionally, operating expenses were up — for advertising and marketing and sales — by 31 percent.
With positive news about the advent of telemedicine and the headlines the sector continues to make, the Teladoc figures may be a bellwether for the industry as a whole — though this story (as we've reported in the past) is likely going to continue gaining ground given the losses experienced by the firm.
Still, treating patients remotely has its obvious benefits. It's particularly useful in rural areas in which access has substantially decreased because of a large number of hospital closures, including reimbursement and regulatory issues. The growth can be seen in the obvious purchase of HealthiestYou, which seems to show the love companies and payers have for the solutions for employee benefit plans.
Teladoc CEO Jason Goveric recently said his firm saw growth of its telehealth visit volume because of adoption among employer health plans and now hospital systems in an effort to engage patients and make their employer-based health benefits more robust.
On a state level, telemedicine use has increased access to care, the American Telemedicine Association recently reported. For example, hospitals with telemedicine providers have also been able to reduce readmissions. Likewise, consumers interviewed by American Well said that more than 20 percent would switch primary care providers to gain access to telehealth services.
Multiple states and Washington, D.C., have telemedicine parity laws. Analytics on physician practice standards and licensure show a growing move away from restrictive requirements that limit telemedicine, and the ATA also shows that state medical boards are developing regulations and guidance specifically for telemedicine versus in-person medical care. For example, Idaho, Missouri, New York, North Carolina and South Carolina ban the use of cellphone video to facilitate telehealth visits.
The ATA Coverage and Reimbursement report compares telemedicine adoption for every state in the U.S. For the first time since its inception in 2014, the report shows that all Medicaid agencies cover some form of telemedicine. In 2017, all states allow coverage of telemedicine to some degree compared to 24 states in 2005.
Seven states, including Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Rhode Island, Utah and West Virginia, have adopted policies that improved coverage and reimbursement of telemedicine-provided services since the 2016 report. Delaware, South Carolina and Washington, D.C., have either lowered telemedicine coverage or adopted policies further restricting telemedicine coverage.
Telemedicine is a significant and rapidly growing component of healthcare in the United States, the ATA reports. There are currently about 200 telemedicine networks, with 3,500 service sites in the U.S., and nearly 1 million Americans are currently using remote cardiac monitors. For some perspective, the Veterans Health Administration delivered more than 300,000 remote consultations using telemedicine as far back as 2011.
Additionally, more than half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine. Consumers and physicians simply download health apps for use on their cellphones.
In the end, we will have to wait and see whether Teladoc's revenue and membership growth or its monetary losses are the bigger story.
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