What does 2018 have in store for virtual health and how does that impact advisers and employers? According to a National Business Group on Health study, 96% of large employers are now offering some level of telehealth benefits today. Industry experts predict that the service will deepen as benefit advisers and employers see the rewards of offering this essential perk.

What’s next in virtual care delivery? Here are some telehealth trends to look out for in 2018.

Telehealth grows up, and it's powerful
You’ll likely hear the phrase “full continuum of care” more in 2018 when the word “telehealth” is uttered. From behavioral health and dermatology to second opinions for complex conditions like cancer and heart disease, telehealth will expand the use cases for which it can provide quality care.

Payers raise expectations, unlocking the full value of virtual healthcare delivery
Advisers will need to pay particular attention to concerns from clients about cost containment, care access, and patient satisfaction. Understanding the advancements being made in technology, analytics, and care delivery through virtual care delivery will help brokers with an informed response about how virtual care can improve health outcomes and produce financial savings, engagement and satisfaction.

Utilization takes center stage as digital health adoption approaches mainstream
Telehealth will, once and for all, shed its status as “new” technology in 2018 as use rises. As consumers’ comfort with digital health gives way to reliance on new tools like smart thermometers and virtual assistants, telehealth will fill the care gap with access to quality care, wherever and whenever they need it.

Virtual healthcare delivery tackles the largest cost drivers
Chronic conditions, like diabetes, are responsible for approximately 84% of healthcare dollars in the U.S. alone. Analytics will be the answer to helping target care needs for these expensive diseases as virtual care enables care access from a single point of entry, including access to leading specialists worldwide.

Mental health is part of the conversation
American companies are losing an estimated $23 billion per year in absenteeism due to mental health issues. With the shrinking stigma in seeking help and the realization that shortages of providers exist, today’s organizations will search for more robust behavioral health solutions through virtual care.

Health systems embrace telehealth
Hospitals and health systems are finding solutions for value-based healthcare in telehealth, helping them streamline the consumer experience and be more competitive. With more than 75% of health systems implementing some form of telehealth by the end of 2018, consumers will likely soon experience it at a hospital near them.

Data security is front and center, as connected care accelerates
With the growing prevalence of smart phones and connected devices enabling access of protected health information outside the walls of hospitals and physician offices, security will continue to be in the limelight. Virtual care providers will increasingly be under pressure to demonstrate that they have the most stringent measures in place for protecting and securing the sensitive PHI of their clients and members.

Artificial intelligence + medical excellence = high-quality care
Medical excellence and quality must be foundational components of using artificial intelligence (AI) to help guide healthcare decisions. Entering 2018, the continued success of AI in health will rely on experts to contextualize each patient with the health system that he or she is in.

Virtual health is on the move in 2018 — from addressing a full spectrum of needs — from episodic to chronic, to supporting a wide range of needs for health systems, and being at the forefront of the use of predictive analytics to proactively guiding care interactions. As advisers continue to increase their value to clients with their knowledge of the rapidly changing world of benefits and care access, understanding how virtual care delivery is touching all facets of employees’ health experiences will help them explore the cadence of virtual care’s mounting relevance in 2018 and beyond.

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Dan Trencher

Dan Trencher

Trencher is senior vice president of product and corporate strategy for Teladoc, a telehealth service provider.