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Despite different drivers among healthcare leaders, telehealth is gaining momentum. Still, key barriers need to be addressed.
While telehealth has long been a growing sector of the health IT industry in the U.S., the massive surge of newly insured Americans under the Affordable Care Act has thrust the industry into the spotlight, and telehealth is now more of a “must have” than a “nice to have” for patients, hospitals, physicians and other providers.
The market is expected to grow to nearly $39 billion by 2018, according to a recent report by Ken Research. Yet, despite the data and the fact that we live in the age of 24/7 assistance and constant communication through social media, email, texting and video chats, healthcare is primarily trapped in a world where in-person interaction is still the primary form of communication between clinicians and patients.
To get a real pulse on where telehealth is and where it is headed, Avizia and Custom Research surveyed 280 healthcare executives from across the country. As a part of this national survey, healthcare leaders shared their organizations’ current telehealth practices-what service lines are using it, what types of technologies are being used to deliver the care, as well as the driving forces for the expansion of telehealth. They also shared their telehealth obstacles, from reimbursement issues to clinician resistance, and what they hope will change to propel their practices into the future.
Let’s take a look at the data.
Different telehealth perspectives
The survey found that when it comes to what drives telehealth adoption, healthcare professionals appear to have different, but not surprising motives.
Overall, those survey respondents in senior management were more likely to say that meeting value-based care goals and expanding service lines are driving their organizations to pursue telehealth.
Those respondents in information technology management tended to say they were more focused on acute requirements-reaching new patient populations, increasing revenue and lowering operating costs were all top drivers for this group.
Clinicians, not surprisingly, were more likely to say that telehealth is most driven by improving clinical outcomes.
What was surprising was the reported disconnect between how healthcare executives want to use telehealth and how they are actually using it. According to the report’s findings, the most common service lines using telehealth today include stroke (44%), behavioral health (39%), staff education and training on telehealth technology (28%), and primary care (22%). However, when survey respondents were asked to look to the future, they put patient education and training at the top of their wish list (34%), closely followed by remote patient home monitoring (30%) and primary care (27%).
Why education and remote patient monitoring? The answer is obvious: consumers. With so many people to see, education and remote patient monitoring hold the key to improving the health of some of the nation’s most complex patients.
Whether it is a video on how to administer insulin shots or a medical device that can monitor a patient’s heart condition and feed the data directly into their electronic health record (EHR), direct and ongoing access to patients is vital to improving their health and lowering costs in the system.
Barriers to telehealth adoption
Telehealth, just like every other industry, comes with its own challenges. While health IT managers see the value telehealth provides, most are overwhelmed. From cardiology to behavioral health, each department has its favored technology solution.
Similar to data management, where EHRs manage the organization’s needs, HIT needs a collaboration platform, not just another departmental solution.
In order to truly fulfill the promise of telehealth, telehealth technology (such as remote monitoring devices), need to integrate with EHR systems.
Reimbursement is another barrier to widespread telehealth adoption. Legislation like the CONNECT for Health Act, which would expand Medicare reimbursement for telehealth, could help address that problem and ensure more providers begin using the technology.
Like any booming industry, there are a lot of moving parts and there is still much work to be done. By continuing to work together and creating the best possible tools and technology, on the industry can begin to experience the promise of telehealth, and get Americans the care they need in any place at any time, with any physician.
Alan Pitt, MD, is the chief medical officer at Avizia and attending physician and professor of neuroradiology at the Barrow Neurological Institute.