It’s ironic that so many publications are praising telemedicine as an increasing trend, a disruptor, or something new, since the technology has been evolving for more than 50-years. Today, there’s no doubt that the telehealth usage is growing. Let’s look at the trends shaping the popularity of the virtual visit to provide healthcare in the US.
Telemedicine Trends to Watch
“Evolution in telemedicine is one of the biggest sources of rapid changes in the US Healthcare System.”
Data Driven Investor
Trend 1 – Increased telehealth adoption
For years, hospitals have implemented telehealth for a variety of service lines. But the technology has moved beyond the hospital to the medical practice. The research from FAIR Health shows from 2014 to 2018, non-hospital telehealth grew 1,393%. The typical healthcare visit in this category was between a patient in their home who had not been recently hospitalized but who had a video chat with a remote physician over a non-urgent medical issue such as a cold or a skin rash.
But the same study showed even inpatient or emergency room physician to patient telehealth grew by 397% during that time. Provider-to-provider telemedicine also increased by 131%.
Despite this unprecedented growth in the service, the widespread use of telehealth isn’t common; one study showed only 15% of all physicians currently work in a practice where telemedicine is the norm. This is expected to change in the coming years; by 2023 the telemedicine market in the US alone will top $13 billion. HIT Consultant reports that practices not offering this service will have difficulties attracting new patients who are projected to rapidly accept, normalize, and then prefer telemedicine.
Trend 2 – Increased reimbursement
Reimbursement for telehealth services has been cited as a hurdle for widespread adoption. That’s changing as both public and private payers recognize the cost savings found in telehealth offerings. One study found net cost savings for a telemedicine visit ranged between $19 and $121 per visit.
Last year CMS increased its telehealth reimbursement for Medicare Advantage customers. The policy covers more than 34% of all Medicare recipients, with those numbers projected to rise by 11.5% in 2020. In 2019, the traditional rules around originating site restrictions loosened and this is expected to continue. Inside Digital Health says:
“Such positive change empowers and incents healthcare providers and health plans to rethink care delivery and unleashes the potential of the reach and impact that physicians and care teams can have.”
The number of states with telehealth parity laws is rising. Currently, 40 states have some sort of reimbursement-friendly environment affecting private payer reimbursement of telehealth. But even before parity laws were introduced, we began to see a more digital-centric attitude toward telehealth. Instead of viewing telemedicine as a secondary choice over a traditional visit, the trend is toward telehealth as an effective and sometimes preferred way to receive care for medical issues.
Trend 3 – Vulnerable populations will leverage telehealth
While there may be assumptions that millennials are the patient population using telehealth most frequently, in fact, the technology will have a bigger impact in the coming years with older and more vulnerable populations.
Younger populations are generally the most digital-friendly, since a large portion has grown up in a time when technology is the rule and not an anomaly. But healthcare providers are increasingly aware of how telemedicine can facilitate treatment more effectively for medically complex populations, such as chronically ill seniors or premature infants.
Fully one-half of Americans today have at least one chronic illness such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, or heart disease. As providers seek new ways to better manage this problem, telemedicine will increasingly become a tool for at-home care for patients with chronic or serious diseases. With telehealth, patients can communicate with their providers regularly from the comfort of their homes.
Trend 4 – Telehealth will create a spin-off industry of peripheral devices
Telehealth has always been a healthcare disrupter. But as the technology goes mainstream, it will likely spin-off an entirely new set of disruptive peripheral services and devices to support the industry.
Watch for the growth of tools such as:
- Home messaging devices that provide Q&A for patient education and self-management via Disease Management Protocols.
- Clinical tools such as biometric scales, blood pressure or heart rate monitors, stethoscopes, glucometers, and pulse oximeters.
- Monitoring center links connected to the hospital or medical practice with fetal monitoring, cardiac, pulmonary, or other connected care.
- Telemonitoring devices for the frail or elderly that capture room motion and respond if the patient falls or has a long period of inactivity.
In 2020 many of these devices will integrate more thoroughly into the telemedicine workflow as doctors and patients grow comfortable with the use of these tools. This will help with care continuity while still cutting costs for chronically ill patients.
Trend 5 – New delivery tools for telehealth technology
Telehealth makes sense for a hyper-connected world. Most consumers own multiple digital devices. But the US population is still heavily connected with traditional media like television sets. Watch for companies to develop technology that will turn our TVs into virtual doctor offices. Instead of depending on a laptop, cellphone, or other digital device, TVs will link patients with physician networks to provide treatment in the home. This will allow more seniors to age in place while improving patient engagement, medication adherence, and support of chronic diseases. Imagine a home healthcare company checking in with patients by TV instead of sending a caregiver to the patient’s home. This could lessen the risk of adverse events leading to hospitalization.
Also, watch for tighter integrations with Internet of Things devices like the Apple Watch or Fitbit. Given that the big four technology companies—Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have all been working on telemedicine initiatives, we can expect rapid innovation and disruption to continue in the healthcare industry.
Virtual Care in 2020
With consumer, doctor, and payer attitudes all shifting toward widespread adoption of telehealth, we should expect great things from the technology this year. Firms like OrthoLive are dedicated to innovation in the virtual care delivery space. Our service is an easy-to-use telemedicine app linking orthopedists with patients to deliver care securely online. It’s a high-value, low-cost care delivery mechanism to provide innovative care to patients. Talk to our team about a demo of the service today.