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Sunday, February 5, 2023
Home Healthcare Patient Monitoring Hospital Consolidation and How Telemedicine Can Help

Hospital Consolidation and How Telemedicine Can Help

By Dr. Waqaas Al-Siddiq, Founder, Biotricity

Telehealth helps to safely and efficiently treat many people in the population who previously lacked access or were limited to large hospital groups. This creates more competition in medicine, ultimately leading to better quality of care and lower prices for patients. Hospital consolidation has taken over medicine, “The Federal Trade Commission characterized almost 90% of all metropolitan healthcare markets, containing over 80% of the US population, as highly concentrated” (UT Dallas). This kind of concentration is a market problem because it leads to reduced competition and consolidates power with large hospital associations. Market power enables you to set prices, negotiate with insurance companies, and lobby with the government.[1] The power large hospital groups possess drive price increases, driving higher patient costs. Recent analysis has shown that the price of an average hospital stay has soared, with prices in most areas going up between 11 percent and 54 percent in the years afterward, according to researchers from the Nicholas C. Petris Center at the University of California, Berkeley”.[2] As consolidation continues, we need more competition to support both care quality and reduced costs. Smaller practices can leverage telehealth to compete, providing better and more affordable care, while maintaining their independence.

Telehealth greatly aids smaller-sized medical practices by expanding the scope of their practice, increasing access and reducing overheard. Healthcare providers can take on patients who are geographically dispersed, immobile elderly people, and individuals lacking transportation. Telehealth supports greater scheduling flexibility and entices patients to more frequently attend appointments because of drastically shortened waiting times.[3]These reasons help smaller practices attract and retain more patients, helping them combat the problem of hospital consolidation. If medical practices are unable to compete, they would become easier acquisition targets for larger medical organizations. In addition to using telehealth to compete and provide more convenient care, providers can treat patients they would otherwise not have been able to help.

One prominent example of this would be for specialty care. On average, one out of three patients per year are referred to a specialist. Prior to telehealth, patients who required specialty care were unable to receive care from smaller healthcare facilities. Without telemedicine, larger, more advanced medical facilities were the only ones capable of effectively providing specialty care. In large part, this has been because these types of facilities owned the necessary equipment and employed subspecialist physicians knowledgeable enough to handle such cases. Now, with telehealth being ubiquitous throughout the healthcare industry, smaller practices can partner with specialists to deliver a broader range of care.[4]

Historically, smaller medical practices and providers have been at a significant disadvantage compared to the many resources of larger medical networks. Today, connected medical technologies allow patients to safely and securely have tele-appointments with their specialists, facilitating the remote delivery of safe and effective quality care.[5]Telehealth has enabled and increased access to specialty care while connected devices have led to better insights and operability. Today, medical equipment combined with software capable of connecting patient information between primary care providers and specialists provides better access and insights into patient behavior.[6]The wide breadth of tools previously available only to larger facilities was imperative to serve a medically diverse patient population. Now, telehealth allows medium/smaller facilities to treat these kinds of patients through remote patient monitoring technologies and virtual appointments.

Throughout the last few years, the healthcare industry has trended towards hospital consolidation. Within the last five years, at least 4.6% of hospitals within the United States have had a change in ownership.[7] Experts predict this trend will continue at an accelerated pace. Consolidation for smaller hospitals is focused on gaining power and resources whereas large hospital groups focus on growth to create more power within the industry. These scenarios make for less competition within the healthcare industry, driving up costs for patients. A lack of choices for patients leads to healthcare inelasticity, leading to higher costs. In addition, as healthcare systems grow, their incentive to improve patient care is reduced because there is less risk to their business. This creates an opportunity for smaller practices to deliver better and more accessible care to patients while staying independent. One way to accomplish this is by implementing or expanding the use of telemedicine. Telemedicine enables healthcare providers to deliver quality and convenient medical care at lower costs, allowing smaller practices to compete with powerful hospital conglomerates.

[1]Why Hospitals and Health Insurers Didn’t Want You to See Their Prices – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[2]When Hospitals Merge to Save Money, Patients Often Pay More – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[3]DOXIVA – How Telehealth is boosting small to medium size hospitals and clinics to provide better care

[4]How Telehealth Can Improve Access to Specialty Healthcare (intouchhealth.com)

[5]Telehealth Models for Increasing Access to Specialty Care – RHIhub Toolkit (ruralhealthinfo.org)

[6]How Telehealth Can Improve Access to Specialty Healthcare (intouchhealth.com)

[7]What does hospital consolidation mean for US health care? (advisory.com)


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