Telemedicine, once reserved for treating patients in remote areas, is increasing in popularity thanks to today's connected consumer who prefers immediate answers over time spent in a doctor's waiting room.
More lenient regulation, continued technological innovation, changes in telehealth reimbursement, improved security, and growing acceptance of telemedicine solutions have also contributed to its popularity.
Telemedicine Growth by the Numbers
One indicator of telemedicine's growth is the number of private insurance claims for telehealth services. (Telehealth or eHealth is the broader framework of which telemedicine is a subset.) According to Fair Health, a non-profit focused on healthcare industry price transparency, medical claims for telehealth grew by 624 percent from 2014 to 2018.
The American Hospital Association (AHA) says that 76 percent of U.S. hospitals now connect with patients and consulting practitioners using telemedicine solutions, almost every state Medicaid program has some form of coverage for telehealth services, and private payers are embracing coverage for many virtual care services.
Also, the global telemedicine market is expected to grow 17 percent annually to $38 billion by 2022, according to Zion Market Research. Around the world, telemedicine will continue to be a key healthcare growth strategy for hospitals looking to expand their services and reach more consumers.
It stands to reason telemedicine is growing due to the benefits it provides. For example, hospitals are using it to:
- Manage chronic conditions;
- Monitor patients in real-time;
- Manage medications;
- Serve as follow-up visits once the patient is discharged;
- Provide individual and group patient education;
- Supervise rehabilitation and self-management techniques;
- Store and forward information, such as medical imaging.
Hospitalist programs are one of the greatest beneficiaries of telemedicine technology solutions.
A previous post on this blog — The Important Role Telemedicine Is Playing in Hospital Medicine — listed the following benefits:
Recruiting - Because telehealth platforms lets hospitalists work from home, relocation becomes a non-issue, making recruiting easier.
Provider Retention - The home-based model reduces burnout, enhances work-life balance, and increases provider retention.
Balance - Telehospitalists provide backup for surges, enable better resource utilization, and improve coverage models by balancing demand and capacity.
Care Coordination - Round-the-clock provider access for admissions, discharges, and quality audits helps reduce LOS.
Patient Experience - Patient satisfaction scores improve thanks to on-demand access to a telehospitalist and the ability to remain in the community for care.
Strategic Alignment - Distribution of provider services to locations with the highest need allows patients to be cared for locally versus being transferred to a distant facility.
Telemedicine's Impact on Healthcare
Looking beyond its growing popularity and benefits, in what other ways is telemedicine impacting healthcare in America? Research revealed several evolving trends, including the following:
Decentralized Care Will Become Commonplace
Telemedicine is moving away from larger settings to more community-based, cost-effective locales, said a Forbes article. Many hospitals are looking to decentralize their niche offerings, especially teleradiology, with the help of community extension services or by partnering with emergency care centers.
Patient-Centered Medical Homes Become a Reality
One of the main reasons why telemedicine has enjoyed success is because of increased customer satisfaction numbers. It makes treatment convenient and easy while also saving time and costs for doctors and patients alike.
“As a result, we can expect to see a rise in the number of patients getting treatments right from the comfort of their home or be part of a medical home that houses many patients with similar symptoms and diseases,” Forbes said.
Self-Service Will Emerge
The next generation of telehealth apps is beginning to emerge, with some incorporating artificial intelligence into the process, said a HealthLeaders Media article.
“These apps not only guide patients through a series of questions and collect data, perhaps through a bot, but some can interpret those responses,” the article said. “By the time the patient connects with the provider, a tremendous amount of legwork is complete.”
Provider Collaboration Will Be Enhanced
Provider collaboration is another area of growth for telemedicine. This expansion from a provider-to-patient to a provider-to-provider model could “enhance communication between nursing staff and physicians as well as physician consultation with specialists,” said HealthLeaders Media. Ultimately, this can only spell good things for hospital performance, growth, and service expansion.
Barriers to Telemedicine Adoption
As popular as telemedicine has become, barriers to adoption remain. For one, awareness about telemedicine services is low. A J. D. Power survey of 1,000 Americans found that nearly three quarters were unaware of or unable to access telehealth services.
Many among those who are aware have yet to adopt its use due to the change in behavior required. It comes as no surprise that the most avid users are young — 18 to 24 — while seniors are laggards, utilizing telehealth services the least.
"Telehealth technology is maturing, but the relatively low levels of engagement we're seeing implies that major initiatives in both patient education and consumer experience are the next steps in making telehealth a staple for healthcare delivery in the United States," Greg Truex, managing director of health intelligence at J.D. Power, said in a statement regarding the survey.
Lack of awareness and low adoption aren't the only barriers. According to the AHA, Medicare generally still limits coverage and payment for many telehealth services, lagging behind other payers and impeding telehealth expansion.
Inadequate access to broadband services (34 million Americans still lack access, reports the Federal Communications Commission) also hampers the ability of some rural facilities to deploy telehealth, says the AHA, along with the challenge of cross-state licensure and other legislative and policy-related roadblocks. Concerns over security, the financial investment required, and continuity of care round out the list.
Telemedicine is a growing technological and clinical phenomenon that is impacting healthcare now and will to a greater extent in the future. While barriers to its growth exist, the benefits are too numerous to ignore. As such, healthcare providers will be forced to acknowledge, address, and overcome any challenges that come with telemedicine implementation.
As more healthcare organizations pivot to embrace new digital health platforms, telemedicine adoption will continue to emerge as a critical growth strategy and differentiator in an increasingly competitive healthcare landscape.
Wondering how to implement a telemedicine solution in your hospital? Explore how leveraging telehealth technology can extend quality care at your facility, or contact us to discuss your growth, cost, and quality goals with our team of experts.
Are you ready to join the next generation of healthcare delivery? Explore careers in telemedicine with SCP Health.