In 2017 we saw an evolution in how employees are seeking care.

Aligned with a recent National Business Group on Health study that indicates that 96% of large employers are now offering some level of telehealth benefits today, more and more employees were engaging with telehealth in 2017 and learning firsthand that they could receive quality care while saving time and money.

(Related: 7 Important Florida Telehealth Discoveries)

Consider that it was only four years earlier, in 2013, when the National Business Group on Health/Towers Watson survey of large employers showed just 23% of large employers implementing telehealth.

With this rate of change, it leaves many – including benefits brokers and employers – wondering what to expect in 2018. Read on, for eight predictions for virtual care delivery in 2018:

1. Telehealth grows up, and it’s powerful.

While many are now familiar with the role telehealth for treating episodic needs like cold & flu and upper respiratory infections, in 2018 we will see expansion to a more comprehensive virtual care delivery platform that will grow in breadth to include a full spectrum of medical conditions, ranging from episodic needs, to behavioral health and chronic, complicated medical conditions like heart disease and cancer. Also expect expansive clinical services ranging from expert second opinions to the use of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to proactively identify patients in need of intervention.

2. Payers raise expectations, unlocking the full value of virtual healthcare delivery.

It’s no secret that today’s healthcare system is focused on value. Payers in particular will be looking to maximize value from telehealth, seeking not just financial savings, but increased engagement and satisfaction, and improved health outcomes. Thanks to advancements in technology and in data and analytics, the value of virtual care delivery will accelerate in 2018.

3. Utilization takes center stage as digital health adoption approaches mainstream.

Ninety% of adults under the age of 65 have smartphones today, and 2/3 of Americans either have or are open to using mobile health apps to manage their health. As more employees become aware of telehealth through innovative marketing strategies, mobile technology will drive engagement and utilization, especially as vendors focus on delivering patient-centric systems.

4. Virtual healthcare delivery tackles the largest cost drivers. Finally.

Diagnosing and treating chronic conditions is expensive and eats up approximately 84% of health care dollars in the U.S. alone.

Networks (Image: Thinkstock)

(Image: Thinkstock)

In 2018 virtual care delivery will address the rising impact of chronic and complex conditions through a combination of analytics that pinpoint care needs, cognitive computing to support accuracy of diagnosis and treatment planning, and virtual access to specialists on a hyper-personalized basis for patients.

5. Mental health is part of the conversation. Organizations take action.

Shortages of mental health providers will persist, and to address that need, telebehavioral health will grow in popularity. Employees who need care will not only be able to overcome geographical barriers, but also the stigma that has too often been attached to mental health.

6. Health systems embrace telehealth (at scale).

2017 was a momentum-building year for telehealth, as health systems increasingly added and expanded its use to deliver on their operational objectives. By December 2018, it is estimated that 76% of health systems will have implemented, or be in the midst of implementing, consumer telehealth to help reduce financial risks and provide more value to their patients .

7. Data security is front and center, as connected care accelerates.

Securing sensitive health data takes on new importance as consumers’ devices increasingly become the conduit of health information. There will be an even greater need for strong third-party validation of a telehealth provides’ ability to meet health care regulations and requirements for securing protected member and client health care information.  

8. Artificial Intelligence + Medical Excellence = High-Quality Care.

The next big thing in healthcare is no doubt, artificial intelligence (AI). As AI helps guide decisions on care, the healthcare world in 2018 will increasingly need to remain focused on quality of the data that goes in and the experts that interpret what comes out.

Set to be a landmark year in virtual care delivery, 2018 will bring consumers a new level of value, access and quality. To get a glimpse of the magnitude of the reach of virtual care, consider that Teladoc has reported completing more than 5,000 virtual health visits in just one day – that is equal to the total number of patients seen in one day by the country’s five largest hospital emergency departments combined. Employers evaluating their benefits spend will undoubtedly hear more about the virtual care boom and brokers who know what is coming will be best poised for the next evolution of telehealth coming their way.

—Read 5 Ways to Increase Use of Telehealth on ThinkAdvisor.

— Connect with ThinkAdvisor Life/Health on
Facebook and Twitter.