According to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), telemedicine has proven to save time, money, and lives for more than 50 years. Amid rising expenses for health systems, an aging population, and the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, the healthcare industry must continuously change the way it operates, which is why the concept of telehealth continues to be embraced.
As complex as telehealth may seem, in reality, it’s simply defined as the use of medical devices and communication technology to monitor patient diseases and their symptoms.
Working toward global adoption
Worldwide, telehealth is expected to grow by more than 10 times from 2013 to 2018 as providers and hospitals increasingly employ remote communications and monitoring technology in an attempt to reduce costs and improve the quality of care. Revenue for devices and services is expected to reach $4.5 billion, up from $440.6 million in 2013, according to the research firm IHS. And, according to its recent report, “World Market for Telehealth -- 2014 Edition,” the number of patients using telehealth services will rise to 7 million in 2018, up from less than 350,000 people using the technology last year.
To date, radiology has been the primary driver of telehealth services with more than 5 million patients having a diagnostic test read by an off-site specialist, according to the ATA. Medical Economics reports that another 1 million patients have had implantable pacemakers or other devices monitored remotely, and about 400,000 patients receiving mental health services via telemedicine. Increasingly, it has been found to help those managing chronic conditions of those 65 and older who face high levels of certain conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
Reasons for expansion
The expansion of telemedicine can likely be attributed to the growth in mobile and wearable technology, ultimately increasing a patient’s ability to receive care regardless of their geographic or physical location. However, as telemedicine expands, it’s becoming more than a rural technology by helping to create a sustainable technology platform used to deliver preventive care for millions of patients.
Even with increased use of the technology, patient involvement and engagement remains the cornerstone of its continual growth as a concept. With advancements in personal technology like mobile devices and remote monitoring tools, healthcare IT isn’t just about physicians communicating with other physicians, but rather physicians having the ability to directly engage their patients.
Continued growth and potential obstacles
Telemedicine is a practice taking place everywhere and as populations become more mobile, and technology allows them to better connect to their caregivers, patients will likely continue to engage in greater numbers and more directly with their caregivers. Geography aside, as policies and technologies become more integrated, within the care setting and in patient’s personal lives, telehealth is likely to become a normal practice at the point of care.
And as its uses, applications, and cost-effectiveness expand, many in healthcare will continue to seek ways to increase its use beyond single patient cases to monitor broader populations if for no other reason than its effectiveness as a care tool. According to the American Telemedicine Association, results of using telehealth show decreases in hospital re-admission and mortality rates, and increases in patient engagement.
Poor implementation, low reimbursement levels and lack of physician support, however, remain some of the barriers of telehealth implementation.