imageVirtual healthcare – call it telemedicine, remote monitoring, or the umbrella term, telehealth – is coming of age. And it’s a form of healthcare that a growing percentage of consumers in the U.S. want.

I’m in Branson, Missouri, today, meeting with the State’s Hospital Association to talk about consumers in the growing DIY health/care economy. So “telehealth,” broadly defined, is part of my message.

This week Xerox announced its survey results focused on consumers’ interests in telehealth. “Xerox helps healthcare providers serve patients anytime, anywhere,” the press release starts. Convenience, cost-savings, and the ability to consult physicians quickly and get e-refills are the top drivers which result in 77% of people being excited about the prospect of telehealth, according to Xerox’s survey. (The survey was conducted in May 2016 among 2,033 U.S. adults).

Here in Missouri, the Mercy Virtual health center opened in late 2015 as the nation’s first totally virtual healthcare site. This center serves as a hub for at least 75 telemedicine services and an eICU – extending intensive care services virtually to hospitals that need them. That’s important in this state which has several regions that are underserved by specialists and intensivist physicians.

Mercy’s virtual center is an important milestone in the growing market for truly consumer-directed health services: using one’s high-deductible, copay, coinsurance, or retail out-of-pocket payment to get healthcare on your own terms.

While the “on your own terms” is still a Holy Grail, we are getting closer to that target with the advent of dozens of start-ups closing the chasm between the hospital and doctor’s office often inconvenient locations, costly parking, waiting times, sterile environments, lack of price transparency, and impossible-to-understand bills and EOBs (explanations of benefits from insurance companies).

imageHealth Populi’s Hot Points:  The Xerox study demonstrates that health consumers like technology in health care that suits their own preferences and values: like saving time, streamlining the prescription fill or refill — that is, feeling respected in the health care process. For more on that topic, see the important JAMA article, Value-Based Payments Require Valuing What Matters to Patients.

The ad from Dignity Health’s campaign, Hello human kindness, represents that kind of approach. Dignity Health, the rebranded Catholic Healthcare West, is a faith-based health system. And here, they are showing respect for the patient with a new “kindness feature:” online appointment scheduling. That hits home with patients-now-consumers who want to save time, make the appointment, and get a digital reminder that the visit is scheduled. This is the way, say, that same consumer might schedule a restaurant reservation on Open Table, or make a cash transfer from one account to another.

This is the new normal for more health consumers. Mercy Health System and Dignity Health show it’s quite possible for hospitals and health care providers to serve this more demanding, shopping retail health consumer.