In today’s Exponential Investor:
- Skip the queue, your doctor will see you now
- A new age for healthcare?
- How to ride the telehealth trend
What is telehealth?
For decades, the process of seeing a healthcare professional has been one-dimensional and inefficient.
You call the doctor and hope, rather than expect, to get an appointment.
If it’s a “yes”, and not too urgent, you’ll likely be placed on a triage appointment list, which could leave you waiting for hours for a call-back from the GP.
Worse still, you may call the doctor and be told there are no available appointments, leaving you to call back the following day.
And, if you can’t get an appointment the day after, you’ll need to try the day after that.
You get the picture.
Of course, you could visit your GP in person to try and get an appointment, too.
But if it’s half an hour away, and you need to look after the kids, it isn’t really feasible.
As a result, access to medical professionals is limited for many.
This problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The NHS backlog for non-urgent appointments has surpassed 6.8 million people, a new record.
It’s clear that a more functional and efficient healthcare system is needed to ensure people can still gain access to treatment during these crazy times.
The cost of this can of course be huge. With health, and lives, potentially at stake, waiting for an appointment is out of the question.
In our view, this makes it difficult to look past “telehealth” (you may also see it referred to as “telemedicine” – it’s the same thing).
Telehealth is a system whereby when patients can get virtual access to medical professionals via a digital healthcare platform.
What are the benefits of telehealth?
There are several, the main one being convenience.
From the comfort of your own home, telehealth allows you to gain professional healthcare access in a matter of moments, saving you the time and hassle of leaving the house.
In this way, telehealth is particularly beneficial to patients that live in rural areas, or those with limited mobility.
Another advantage of telehealth is the cost.
According to khealth.com, a telehealth consultation for a respiratory infection costs $79 compared with an in-person visit, which costs $146.
When you consider the loss of output, fuel costs and the diversion of medical resources from unnecessary appointments, this makes sense. Telehealth appointments expedite patient care, because they prevents unnecessary trips to emergency rooms, as you can select specific medical professionals for certain illnesses.
Finally, telehealth could help take the strain off overworked healthcare systems, and give millions the opportunity for quality, efficient healthcare.
However, telehealth does have some limitations.
There’s an argument that virtual appointments just aren’t the same as visiting a medical professional in person.
Can a doctor really analyse your full physical symptoms over a screen, and pick up on every detail?
In this way, virtual examinations may not be as conclusive or effective.
There’s also no escaping the fact that some patients will still require in-person appointments, regardless of the progress of telehealth ‒ for example, if they require invasive surgery.
As such, telehealth will likely complement existing healthcare systems, not override them.
Nevertheless, the hard numbers suggest that the telehealth trend is catching on.
According to McKinsey, 11% of US patients used telehealth services in 2019. In the first part of 2021, this figure more than trebled to 38%.
Sceptics might say the pandemic, which prevented access to medical practices, has artificially elevated this figure.
However, the fact that the telehealth industry is expected to grow sevenfold between 2021 and 2028, rising from $90.7 billion to $636.3 billion, suggests that it’s here to stay.
What does the future of telehealth look like?
Telehealth will likely become an essential means of delivering healthcare to people across the world.
The technology itself will probably integrate with public and private healthcare systems on a larger scale, with private companies providing most of the infrastructure and platforms.
Patients could have more choice about the kind of healthcare they receive, with the costs of this being outlined.
As the industry develops, the technology will get quicker, smarter and more advanced.
For example, the use of artificial intelligence or AI (otherwise known as “machine learning”) may enhance the investigative technologies used over the internet.
For instance, this could include analysis of a mole.
Another way in which AI could assist is through the analysis of large medical data and records. Using AI to do this can ensure accurate diagnoses, and medical treatment can be given for specific illnesses, eliminating the possibility of human error.
How to invest in telehealth stocks
A number of telehealth stocks are available to purchase on the public exchanges.
Given the nascency of the industry, looking at the biggest players is a good place to start, as they have the capital and credibility to take the industry higher.
For example, Teladoc Health is regarded as the industry leader. More than half of Fortune 500 companies use Teladoc’s services for its employees, with the company serving more than 76 million members.
Teladoc estimates an addressable market of $260 billion.
Another leading telehealth provider is Doximity.
Doximity’s platform is like a huge buffet of doctors and physicians from which its customers can choose. In fact, 80% of US doctors are verified members.
In addition, more than 150 hospitals use Doximity’s telehealth products, which links patients with its doctor’s member base.
Another telehealth company is Amwell.
Amwell’s technology is used by more than 55 health insurers, and covers more than 80 million people.
You can also screen other telehealth companies using the Financial Times stock screener, which you can see here.
Simply select the “Health Care” sector and you’ll be well on your way to finding other telehealth companies.
In our view, telehealth adoption looks inevitable.
It could well unlock the efficiency of staggering, overworked healthcare systems and give unfettered access to healthcare for those that need it most.
So, why not skip the queue and see your doctor now?
Until next time,
Contributing Editor, Exponential Investor