Health Services, Health Tech

Is the next big digital health device going to be your TV?

Companies ranging from American Well to Comcast to Independence Blue Cross are looking to the television sets in people’s home as a healthcare delivery method.

Nielsen estimates that around 120 million American households have a TV, which amounts to around 96 percent of the country having access to television content.

That near-ubiquitous distribution has inspired some companies to think of the technology as a potential avenue to deliver healthcare.

Case in point, telemedicine provider American Well has teamed up with Cisco Systems to use people’s television sets as a distribution points for their telehealth platform.

The new feature will be focused on senior care as well as patients with chronic diseases and turn the individual’s TV set up into a avenue for doctors to conduct virtual visits and check ups.

The idea behind the collaboration is to broaden the appeal and usage of telemedicine past the “worried well” by using a familiar piece of technology that’s already installed in a patient’s home and use the new monitoring capabilities as a way to drive down healthcare spend.

“Telehealth is quickly becoming an effective way for Americans to get access to urgent care. While this revolution continues, a new breed of telehealth is emerging. This one will go the other way, empowering doctors and nurses to use technology to knock on our door and visit us at home regularly,” American Well CEO Roy Schoenberg said in a statement.

“This will allow healthcare that previously warranted hospital admission or facility stay to take place in the home, where so many of us prefer to be. Importantly, telehealth will allow us, and our elders, to expect a longer, safer and more graceful aging, in our homes.”

American Well and Cisco aren’t the only companies looking to the TV as a delivery system for healthcare.

Quil Health, the joint venture between Comcast and Philadelphia-based health plan Independence Blue Cross, is looking to provide care support and educational health content using their combined medical and media resources.

The company is developing a hybrid smartphone and TV-based platform that can be used to support patients as prepare and recover from procedures like surgeries like joint or hip replacements. The technology will also allow patients to upload images from their home to help their doctor’s keep apprised of their condition and inform care plans.

Comcast is also reportedly working on its own technology for in-home monitoring of seniors which could detect potential emergency situations like falls. According to an anonymous source cited by CNBC, the company will launch pilots by the end of 2019 with a commercial release coming as soon as next year.

Advancements in telemedicine for seniors have been in part driven by actions by regulatory agencies to broaden the ways that older Americans can access care. Earlier this year, CMS announced the expansion of Medicare Advantage coverage of telehealth services.

CMS coverage of telehealth benefits have historically been limited to beneficiaries in rural areas with limited access to brick-and-mortar care facilities. But the organization has been steadily branching out its offerings in line with the trend of payers shifting care delivery to lower cost and more convenient sites of care.

The new rule, which will go into effect in the 2020 plan year, will allow Medicare Advantage to offer telehealth services as part of their basic benefits, providing patients more options to receive healthcare services from locations like their home.

Picture: simpson33, Getty Images