Even the most aggressive proponents of telehealth must concede that while technology can open the door to health care for some, it can also become an obstacle for others.
“It’s true, the technology is not accessible to everyone,” A.G. Breitenstein, the CEO and co-founder of FOLX Health, said Tuesday at the STAT Health Tech Summit. “But it’s a lot more accessible than the system that we have today.”
In particular, technology can make it easier for people to access care that often comes with barriers. Breitenstein — whose company specializes in care for the queer and trans communities — posed the example of a trans person seeking care in a rural setting.
“They’ve got to find somebody who’s willing to treat them, who will treat them with respect, who understands their bodies,” Breitenstein said. “They’re probably going to have to drive three to four hours to get to them.”
Even if that patient is able to find a provider, the existing health care system is likely to create a lot of unnecessary impediment and expense. An alternative like FOLX, which is entirely virtual, might prove logistically preferable and more affordable.
Another panelist, Thirty Madison co-founder and chief executive Steven Gutentag, pointed to Cove, his company’s offering for people who have migraines.
“There are 40 million people in the United States who suffer from migraine,” he said. “There are fewer than 500 physicians who specialize in it.” The result, Gutentag said, is that many patients are treated either by their primary care physicians, or end up seeking care for especially bad migraines in the emergency room.
“From a cost perspective, obviously the impact individually, but also on the health care system, is quite incredible,” said Gutentag. “And when patients come to Cove, for many of them, it’s the first time they’re getting a specialist migraine-focused care experience.”
During the pandemic, much has been made of telehealth’s ability to replace common health care interactions. But as digital pharmacies and other forms of virtual care evolve, getting people access to the precise care they need and expanding the reach of specialists may be an equally important payoff.
“That’s actually one of the benefits of having technology as part of this. … It creates the opportunity to create more focused communities, more focused offerings, and more tailored offerings to really both make people feel heard, address their concerns, make people feel comfortable sharing their concerns,” Gutentag said. “And I think that’s why you’re seeing different approaches come to market right now.”