Democratizing Healthcare: How Telehealth and AI Are Transforming Access and Affordability
Avihai Sodri, CEO, Antidote Health

Each year, the financial barriers to healthcare continue to become more pronounced in the US. For example, the health expenditure per person in the US was $12,555 in 2022, with comparable countries spending about half of that. These costs can put such strain on Americans that a 2023 poll from KFF found that one in four adults will outright skip or postpone getting healthcare, which rises to six in ten among uninsured adults. 

There are other accessibility barriers to healthcare, such as geographic and socioeconomic boundaries, as well as other restricting issues like disabilities or chronic conditions. For many, the price of health dictates life’s choices, from job opportunities to education and even where they call home.

Despite these challenges, advanced technology – like telehealth and artificial intelligence (AI) – can help dismantle these barriers, ensuring that quality healthcare is accessible to all, irrespective of financial or geographical constraints.

Removing Longstanding Barriers with Telehealth 

Perhaps the most impactful force in making healthcare more accessible and affordable is telehealth. First coming to prominence amid the challenges of the pandemic, telehealth is proven to be more than a temporary fix; it is the preferred means of receiving care for millions of patients – especially those with chronic care needs. 

Unlike traditional in-office visits, telehealth is not constrained by geographical and transportation limitations, making it ideal for rural communities who, despite facing chronic conditions like lung and heart disease at a higher rate compared to their urban counterparts, lack sufficient access to physicians, specialists, and counseling. In fact, a pre-pandemic report from the CDC proposes that telehealth could help reduce barriers to healthcare for rural communications. 

Telehealth also helps disabled individuals overcome barriers to receiving care. These communities must travel frequently due to their recurring appointments and checkups. Nevertheless, this contact travel to clinics or hospitals can be difficult for individuals whose conditions make simple journeys a struggle. Virtual consultations deliver care to their fingertips, ensuring that neither distance nor disability can withhold the healthcare they deserve.

Another benefit of telehealth is that it makes mental health resources and counseling more accessible. The Health Resources and Services Administration states that about 150 million Americans live in federally designated mental health professional shortage areas. Telehealth opens doors to communities that would otherwise be unable to receive care without incurring significant expenses.

How AI Can Transform Healthcare  

Imagine a world where healthcare is not only accessible but tailored, personal, and precise. AI is the key to this new era.

A recent article from Deloitte discusses generative AI (Gen AI) and healthcare affordability. The author notes the challenges plaguing health systems, such as rising costs, clinician burnout, workforce shortages, inflation, and high interest rates. These macroeconomic pressures squeeze hospitals and drive up healthcare costs for patients. Thankfully, the ever-advancing field of AI could alleviate some of these pressures by increasing efficiencies, transforming workflows, and automating tedious tasks. 

For example, AI’s ability to extract insights from large amounts of data could enable more personalized care at lower costs. By using AI to automate the time-intensive process of analyzing a patient’s health history and profile, healthcare workers could more effectively intervene to deliver life-saving treatment. AI-powered bots will also automate surveys, reminders, and patient scheduling, helping to save time and money for under-staffed healthcare practices while decreasing burnout.  

Likewise, Gen AI will play a key role in increasing efficiency and removing barriers to convenient, accessible care. For instance, Gen AI chatbots can respond to patients who are unable to travel to visit a clinician due to distance or disability, answering their questions about symptoms or medications. Medical jargon also prevents patients from understanding treatments and procedures; however, Gen AI can summarize dense healthcare literature and convert it into layman’s terms. 

Changes in the Insurance Industry 

Advanced technologies, like AI and telehealth, are transforming the insurance industry, allowing individuals to take more control over their health. Telehealth, for example, will ultimately make healthcare more affordable by empowering patients to engage with their doctors virtually, keeping total urgent care, ER or hospital visits down, thereby reducing the strain on the healthcare system. Moreover, insurers could use telehealth to reduce healthcare costs, resulting in more affordable premiums for groups like entrepreneurs, gig workers and contractors.

With freelancers and contractors abound, the traditional insurance models fall short, which is where technology like AI and telehealth step in. Advanced technology allows for more affordable premiums and plans that cater to the non-traditional employment sector. These innovative plans provide comprehensive coverage and adapt to the modern worker’s unique lifestyle.

Recognizing that those individuals in non-traditional employment typically don’t have health insurance, some insurers offer budget-friendly plans that ensure affordability without sacrificing coverage. Some of these plans, for example, don’t charge copays for initial pre- and post-natal visits, pediatric virtual care, and virtual doctor visits. Now, a freelance writer or independent consultant can access extensive networks of providers and specialists without employer-sponsored health insurance.

Connected Devices, Apps and Open-Source Software  

AI will benefit many other advanced technologies that are helping to make healthcare more affordable and accessible, such as connected medical devices, which capture and transfer critical patient data, enabling physicians to make decisions in real-time.

Easy-to-use apps with data-sharing functionality also give physicians and specialties access to critical information and the ability to share data with colleagues and cross departments. These efficiencies, boosted by AI, reduce monotonous and error-prone administrative tasks, improving record-keeping and allowing medical practices to save money, driving down expenses.  

Additionally, some leading telehealth providers offer tools that help patients filter health service costs and choose the most favorable installment options for their medical expenses. 

Looking Outside the US 

As society stands on the brink of the healthcare revolution, it’s not just about witnessing change but driving transformation. While the US has the technological capabilities to change and make healthcare more affordable and accessible, other developing nations don’t have that same luxury. As such, telehealth becomes exponentially more valuable, connecting global patients to the best specialists and physicians. Every advancement, every technological stride championed, will be essential as the demand for healthcare services grows and acts as a step where healthcare is a given, not a gamble. 

About Avihai Sodri

Avihai Sodri, is the CEO and Co-Founder of Antidote Health, with a great desire for challenges, especially those that are notoriously known as hard to figure out. Prior to Antidote Health, he was CEO of Vectis Claims Services, establishing and leading the company as a subsidiary of Munich re, the largest re-insurance company in the world.