Telehealth is the process of seeking care from a doctor without having to go see a doctor in person. This is becoming a more popular method of care because it costs less for the patient, allows a doctor to treat more people, and everyone wins because there isn’t the 45 minute wait in the doctor’s office reading 6 month old magazines. In the United States, the Affordable Care Act is looking to expand the current market size by nearly 10 times the current amount in the next five years.
In 2013, the current value of the telehealth market was $240 million. It is expected to reach a market size of at least $2 billion after all of the expected changes take place.
What Is Driving the Trend Towards More Telehealth?
Telehealth in the United States is being driven by a need to get more patients in to see the doctor without enough doctors being available to treat the current patient load. The Affordable Care Act is also looking to change the way that doctors and hospitals are being reimbursed for their services. The current model gives doctors money based on a fee-for-service type of medicine. They are paid based on volume and not on care. Under the new payment system, the goal is to provide better reimbursements based on the value of care instead of the overall amount of patients that are pushed through the clinic.
Telehealth puts the doctor in charge of an entire medical team. Instead of doing a direct examination, the doctor would consult with a patient initially and then direct them to the level of services and care that are needed based on the doctor’s findings. This puts less stress on the doctor and enables other healthcare professionals to be able to do their jobs more efficiently to treat patients that have specific needs.
How many more patients could be seen with a comprehensive telehealth system? The volume in 2013 was estimated at 250,000. It could reach as high as 3.2 million if the right technologies and supports are in place to encourage health conversations over video chatting software, chat boxes, and other forms of remote conversation.
What Is Holding Telehealth Back Right Now?
What has held telehealth back in the past has been an overall lack of physician support, partially because of the limited reimbursements that have been available in this field in the past. Some health insurance plans haven’t even covered telehealth services in the past, causing patients to have to pay for any services rendered and potentially and prescriptions that resulted from the consultation.
With the shortage of doctors in the United States, however, it appears that trends are shifting to favor telelhealth services. Medicaid and Medicare especially are beginning to bundle service packages together so that doctors and clinics are compensated better when there’s a better overall quality of care and a push to achieve a better health outcome. Even the use of an Accountable Care Organization is expected to increase a doctor’s compensation package.
This is why telehealth is poised to succeed. It’s an easy way to increase the quality of healthcare and do it in an efficient way. Imagine not having to travel for 2 hours to see a specialist for 15 minutes to update them on the status of a health issue. If that same consultation could be achieved through Skype, for example, readmission rates could go down while every patient has an increased level of care that begins by being able to stay at home.
What About Telehealth From a Global Perspective?
In 2011, the telehealth revenues that were achieved globally reached $11.6 billion. The market is expected to see an average annual growth of nearly 20% so that when the US market reaches $2 billion per year, the global market will reach $27 billion per year. Part of these global figures include the technologies that are needed for health care providers to provide telehealth, however, so there is a certain level of inflation in the numbers. Technology accounts for nearly 40% of the total global telehealth market.
It is also important to note that modern telehealth applications don’t necessarily just mean treating a patient at home. It may also include direct, but remote monitoring of ICU patients from a care station that includes visual observations. There might also be applications in the assisted living industry, in advanced care facilities, and even in the mental health field – all occurring with the facility where treatments are taking place.
Telehealth also looks to benefit from care that could occur with individuals who could receive health services without a doctor’s visit, especially if there is a chronic condition being handled. This would free of physician time for other patients without compromising the care being received.
Could Telehealth Be Right For You?
Outside of monetary figures, it is difficult to pin down a specific market size for telehealth. It is estimated that there are about 3,500 service sites in the United States and about 1 million Americans are using a cardiac monitor in some way. About 50% of US hospitals today are using at least one form of telehealth and millions of patients around the world are having their vital signs monitored remotely thanks to advanced technology.
That only leaves one question: is telehealth safe? For the most part, the answer would be yes. The biggest problems would be having a mobile device stolen or lost when it was used to access care and having that private information exposed.
Telehealth is affordable, easy for patients and doctors to use, and is rapidly expanding. The market share for telehealth could triple globally and grow by 10x in the United States in the next 5 years. Those are numbers that are difficult to ignore.