The past few years have been remarkable for the telehealth industry. We have seen rapid innovation and diffusion of new technologies, which have created opportunities for new models of care. These new models are being applied in primary, acute and emergent care as well as post hospitalization monitoring and chronic condition management. By some estimates, there will be 7 million patients globally who are remotely monitored using telehealth.1 According to a report from BCC Research, the global telemedicine market grew from $9.8 billion in 2010 to $11.6 billion in 2011 and will almost triple to $27.3 billion in 2016, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.6% over this period.2 As an industry, telehealth promises to improve the quality, convenience and reach of health care and there is emerging evidence that this is the case. So what is driving this shift?
Simply put, we are seeing a convergence of many different factors combining to create the perfect storm for telehealth, and they are:
- Financial – Payers are reimbursing for telehealth. This gives providers an incentive to incorporate these tools into their practices. Many states as well as the federal government have created reimbursement codes for telehealth and for remote monitoring in condition management.3-4
- Regulatory – In addition to creating reimbursement codes, some states have enacted laws removing some of the barriers to telehealth services such as allowing visits without requiring an in-person visit first or loosening licensure requirements on practitioners not physically located in that state.5
- Technological – Wearable and smartphone technology have evolved to allow monitoring on a level never before seen. While not accessible to everyone equally, high-speed data connections and HD video streaming technology have advanced to the point that both the patient and provider’s experience using telehealth technology is smoother and more natural. Also, penetration of technology into our daily lives has given many a level of comfort interacting this way. For example, it is no longer surprising to see someone video chatting using a smartphone.
- Demographic – Our population is aging and will continue to place an ever-increasing demand on our health system. By 2030 there will be 72.1 million older Americans.6 This population, combined with fewer primary care providers, is forcing us to rethink how care can be delivered. Because of this, telehealth will become a necessity, especially in rural or underserved areas.
What are some of the practical considerations for telehealth?
- Workflow Integration –Telehealth services must blend into the normal provider workflow without disrupting an already busy office environment.
- More infrastructure is needed – High-speed data connections are still not available to everyone nationwide.
- Efficacy data is needed – Does telehealth improve cost, quality of life, morbidity and mortality? What is the ROI? These need to be answered if the telehealth is able to live up to its value proposition.
- Data security – Telehealth solutions must be constructed securely and in compliance with federal and state regulations with the highest standards of data protection.
- Ease of Use – Both patient and practitioner user interfaces in mHealth apps, portals, wearables and monitoring devices must be intuitive and easy to understand, without inundating users with clinically irrelevant information.
1Bowman, D. (2014). Patients using telehealth services to hit 7 million by 2018. Retrieved 3/1/15
2BCC Research. (2012). Global Telemedicine Market To Reach $27.3 Billion In 2016. Retrieved 3/1/15
3Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (2014). Covered Telehealth Services. Retrieved 3/1/15
4Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (2015). Chronic Care Management Services. Retrieved 3/1/15
5Telehealth Resource Center. (2015). Licensure and Scope Practice. Retrieved 3/1/15
6Administration for Community Living. (2015). Aging Statistics. Retrieved 3/1/15