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Telehealth on Track for Rapid Growth

Millennials and chronic disease patients fuel remote-care boom.

It seems like every time you turn around these days, new research is touting additional benefits for telehealth. Teletherapy sessions can help treat depression in older patients. Telemedicine visits can be integrated with wellness programs to improve chronic illness and population health management. Remote monitoring of patients with diabetes can decrease hospitalizations, emergency-room visits and costs of care. Teleconferences can provide fragile homebound children or those in underserved and rural communities with life-changing access to pediatric specialists.

The list goes on.

Multifactor Boom

As a result, it’s no surprise that the forecast for telehealth growth looks impressively optimistic. By 2020, telehealth video consultations are expected to soar to 158.4 million annually, up from a mere 19.7 million in 2014, according to Tractica. Several factors beyond the rapidly growing number of documented benefits are driving this boom, including

  • Millennials who prefer to connect digitally with their healthcare providers
  • An aging population with an increasing incidence of chronic disease that can benefit from remote monitoring
  • The desire to reduce healthcare costs and meet accountable care goals
  • A shortage of physicians
  • Technology advances and telehealth tools such as smartphones, smart watches and mobile applications
  • A growing willingness of physicians to provide telemedicine services

Blurred Lines

Nearly one-quarter of physicians currently offer telehealth services, triple the number who did three years ago, and 45 percent of consumers surveyed (58 percent among millennial respondents) said they would use telemedicine if their physicians offered it, according to a HealthMine survey. As telehealth becomes more entrenched and accepted by patients, providers and payers, the lines between telehealth and healthcare blur.

In fact, many experts predict that sooner rather than later, telehealth will prove so integral to modern medicine that the distinction between the two will disappear. Further fueling this assertion is the expectation that within the next four years, more patients will be using telehealth than visiting face to face with their physicians, according to a Logicalis survey.

Challenges Remain

However, challenges to widespread adoption and integration remain. For starters, 41 percent of consumers say they have never heard of telemedicine, and three-quarters say they would not trust a diagnosis made during a virtual visit, the HealthMine survey found. Other issues to address include reimbursement inconsistency, multistate physician licensing restrictions, security concerns and reliable Internet access in rural areas.

Still, there’s no question that telehealth has come a long way from the days when it involved using complicated, expensive equipment to connect specialists with patients in remote areas — and usually required the patients to visit a medical facility to even participate in the video conference. Now telehealth is simply becoming synonymous with patients’ ability to use their mobile devices to access healthcare — whenever and wherever they want it.

ThinkStock
Jan 29 2017

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