February 8, 2016, 2:47 PM

On-demand digital healthcare spending in the U.S. could exceed $1 billion by 2017

Accenture says consumers spent $639 million in 2015 on services that gave them mobile access to medical help.

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As more consumers look to take more control of their healthcare decisions, there is a big market opening up for mobile health companies who provide quick and easy access to healthcare services, says a new report from consulting and research firm Accenture.

Accenture calls such services on-demand health. These services provide consumers with mobile health platforms and apps that allow them to use their web-enabled smartphone or tablet to schedule and conduct doctor visits or manage their health and wellness outside of a hospital or provider office. In 2015, U.S. consumers spent $12.5 billion on all types of on-demand services. Most of that spending, $7.8 billion, went to transportation services like Uber that let consumers request rides through mobile apps and bill the cost of the ride to a credit card.

But healthcare is among the fastest-growing types of on-demand services, Accenture says. In 2015, U.S. consumers spent an estimated $639 million on scheduling and conducting digital doctor visits, Accenture says. By 2017, spending on digital provider, or telehealth sessions that take place on a mobile device could exceed $1 billion, according to Accenture.

“Accelerating forces will continue to transform the industry, speeding the transition from healthcare to life care,” says Accenture senior managing director for global health Kaveh Safavdi. “There’s an enormous opportunity for companies to offer fast, convenient and customized user experiences that ultimately improve the patient's experience and outcome.”

Though it only represented 5%, or $639 million, of all spending on on-demand services last year, healthcare is poised to be among the fastest growing segments going forwarda growth segment, Accenture says. The number of on-demand health companies has increased from four in 2010, to about 42 companies in 2015, according to Accenture. In 2015 on-demand specialty care, behavioral health, wellness and veterinary companies received a total of about $68 million in U.S. public and private funding, Accenture says. Examples of high-profile, on-demand and mobile healthcare companies include Teledoc Inc., a mobile provider of digital doctor visits with a base of over 1,100 board-certified physicians and behavioral health professionals, and AmericanWell.com, a Boston mobile telehealth company.

Over the last five years several areas of on-demand healthcare have raised what Accenture calls significant or meaningful public and private investment dollars. They include specialty care, $15 million; behavioral and therapy services, $19 million; intravenous product and services, $12 million; fitness and wellness services, $21 million; and veterinary services, $1 million.

There are several trends impacting and driving the growth of on-demand healthcare, Safavi says.  “Large payers are now reimbursing virtual doctor’s appointments,” he says. “On-demand virtual visits also are less expensive for consumers, including up to 40% less for primary care and 28% for urgent care.” 

More consumers also want to use the web and their mobile devices to conduct more of their own healthcare business with healthcare providers, Safavi says. “Roughly 190 million people in the U.S. own smartphones and as the number of mobile users rises, so too will the demand for mobile health services,” he says. “Expectations for seamless, coordinated services are not limited to Generation X or Y, since many seniors are also interested in digital health options.”

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