As of mid-2014, three million American patients were using “connected” home medical monitoring systems, and by 2018 that number is expected to rise to over 10 million.
Worldwide, nearly 20 million people are expected to be using home medical monitoring devices by 2018. The main reason behind this growth is expected to be the continuing rise of healthcare costs and a need for systemic change in how the medical industry operates in order to keep costs contained while continuing to deliver high quality healthcare.
From October 2013 to September 2014, nearly 700,000 veterans were treated via telemedicine, accounting for around 12% of veterans enrolled in healthcare programs under the Veterans Administration. Over half of veterans who need medical care live where there is limited access to VA facilities, and telemedicine services help bridge the physical distance. Many signs indicate that 2015 could be the year when telemedicine goes mainstream.
Why 2015 Is Looking Good for Telemedicine
Telemedicine is developing a strong track record for delivering significant financial benefits for healthcare providers, insurers, the government, and healthcare consumers. Around half of all physician visits could be conducted virtually, and eliminating just one in-person physician visit can save over $100. When an emergency room visit is prevented due to telemedicine services, the savings are over $1,000 per instance.
Most importantly for the patient is that telemedicine offers faster, high quality healthcare with outcomes equal to or better than in-person care at much lower out-of-pocket cost. By the year 2018, 65% of interactions with healthcare providers are expected to be done through mobile devices, including ordinary smartphones and tablets, wearable devices, and remote monitoring devices. Yet another sign of telemedicine’s emergence in 2015 is the fact that more than a third of the money invested by Google Ventures in 2014 was directed to healthcare and life sciences companies.
Why 2015 My Not Fully Deliver in Terms of Telemedicine
But while things are definitely looking positive for telemedicine in 2015, it may not end up being the “perfect storm” some are predicting. For one thing, legislation, as it so often does, lags behind technology. Since doctors are licensed by states, telemedicine often runs into issues concerning provision of medical services across state lines. It isn’t a problem when patients drive to the doctor’s office, but hammering out the legalities surrounding telemedicine visits is taking time.
Additionally, there is the issue of reimbursement for healthcare providers, whether by private insurers or government insurers. Some private insurers are now offering telemedicine as an option for patients, and employers who include these benefits have seen the advantages in terms of reduced absenteeism and lower healthcare costs first-hand. For Medicare, however, rules allowing telemedicine visits are changing very slowly. Once relegated to rural patients, telemedicine benefits under Medicare are only slowly being expanded to other Medicare patients through a series of incremental rules changes.
The VA Is Looking to Expand Telemedicine in 2015
The $16.3 billion VA reform bill signed in August 2014 expands the agency’s telemedicine offerings for 2015. The law allows the department to accelerate deployment of mobile clinics via telemedicine. Some of the VA special services slated for expansion include telerehabilitation, tele-mental health, tele-audiology, telecardiology, and even telesurgery. In fact, more than 44 clinical specialities are offered to veterans through VA telemedicine programs.
Telemedicine has already helped the agency provide services more efficiently, leading to a 34% reduction in hospital readmissions and a 42% reduction in bed-days in fiscal year 2014. Patients are pleased too, with clinical video telemedicine receiving a 94% satisfaction rate in fiscal year 2014 according to a survey of 10,000 veterans.
What Doctors Want from Telemedicine
Doctors are keen to embrace telemedicine, but they want to be certain they will be reimbursed fairly for it, and they want to know that they will not run afoul of state licensing laws when providing telemedicine services to patients. While doctors are enthusiastic about the many new devices available for delivering telemedicine services like remote health monitoring, they want to be able to create normalized patient data and integrate connected devices to minimize duplication of effort. And as telemedicine expands, they want to be able to scale the technology to the needs of growing patient populations.
The ATA Is Optimistic About Telemedicine in 2015
The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) is enthusiastic about the expansion of telemedicine in 2014 and is optimistic about its prospects in 2015. The organization’s annual International Meeting & Trade Show, a premier forum for healthcare professionals and entrepreneurs, is expected to include over 500 educational and poster sessions during its three-day run in Los Angeles in May. According to the Meeting & Trade Show announcement, the event will be host to “hundreds of leading vendors with groundbreaking remote healthcare technologies and services.”
Attendees at the trade show are expected to include healthcare administrators interested in increasing clinical outreach while cutting costs, healthcare providers interested in clinical study results and telemedicine best practices, information technology professionals who want to learn about the latest platforms and training certificates, and entrepreneurs looking for B2B and venture capital investment opportunities.
Telemedicine grew during 2014 as more patients, providers, and payers realized the many benefits of this type of healthcare delivery. Many experts said that we were at or near a “tipping point” where telemedicine would become mainstream – something that could well happen in 2015. Much will depend on legislation in state assemblies as well as on Capitol Hill. Though 2015 is not an election year, it is the lead-in to a presidential election year, but telemedicine is one of the few legislative issues to receive fairly broad bipartisan support. If any legislation can make it through a fairly obstructed 114th Congress, it’s telemedicine. And that bodes well for the state of telemedicine in 2015.
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