There has been a steady progression of patient care moving away from the hospital and into more convenient and less expensive facilities. In fact, our 2015 Hospital Construction Survey focuses on the growing number of health systems repurposing existing hospital space as more patient services move off-site. Also large urban areas are booming with ambulatory care construction, as preferences for outpatient care and same-day surgeries grow.

From a few recent studies, it seems the next evolution in reducing facility-related health care costs will be moving health care into patients’ homes as much as possible, and these reports are not talking about doctors making physical house calls.

A report from Goldman Sachs, “The Digital Revolution comes to U.S. Healthcare,” states that virtual doctor visits could cut the cost of the average doctor’s visit by 75 percent. Goldman Sachs has divided the digital health care landscape largely into three categories — remote patient monitoring, telehealth and behavior modification aided by using wearable technologies. If adoption of these digital therapies becomes widespread, the report states that the U.S. health care system could exceed $300 billion in savings.

A recent report from Tractica, a market intelligence firm that focuses on human interaction with technology, estimates that more than 78 million consumers worldwide will use home health technologies by 2020, up from 14.3 million in 2014. The firm anticipates that medical monitoring, diagnosis,and treatment will be the main drivers for this growth. 

But even as health care moves away from the hospitals and into people’s homes, remotely connecting physicians and patients brings new challenges for health facilities.

In a recent interview, Jim Veline, Avera Health’s senior vice president and chief information officer, describes Avera’s eCare telehealth program as an easy-to-use service connecting staff and patients across facilities. On the back end, however, is a complex and carefully planned secure infrastructure.

Avera’s program hasn’t moved into the home yet, but Veline says that health systems that expand telehealth into homes likely will experience the same issues as networks that only connect health facilities. Telehealth in the home can be only as good as the technical infrastructure that is in place in both the home and the hospital.

“The facility can be a challenge, especially if you’ve got a brick wall and you need to put in a cable port so you can plug the equipment in or run electricity,” Veline says.

Regarding home health, Veline says, “It’s fair to say that it will grow, but it’s not consumer-friendly yet. Patients need to have technology on their end for it to work and they need to be able to use it. You also need to protect everyone’s privacy. You can’t just use Skype and FaceTime for videoconferencing, because they are not secure systems.”