Once a novel way for providers to communicate virtually with their patients, telemedicine is on its way to becoming a fixture of the health care delivery system.

Twelve recent industry reports, surveys and published research articles reflect telemedicine’s transformation in the areas of provider adoption, business benefits, patient use and clinical impact.

Provider acceptance converts to provider adoption

A number of surveys now estimate that the percentage of provider organizations offering telemedicine services to patients has crossed the 50 percent threshold and likely is even higher. Most of those not currently offering telemedicine services to patients intend to do so. For example:

  • 70.5 percent of 136 hospitals and health systems surveyed by HIMSS Analytics said they currently use a telemedicine solution or service. That’s up from 54 percent in 2014, according to an earlier HIMSS survey. The increase in telemedicine adoption is a “clear indicator that health care organizations are working to incorporate new telemedicine technology and services to help facilitate patient care communication with clinical colleagues and provide patients and consumer better access to care,” HIMSS said.
  • 49 percent of 161 physician practices surveyed by HIMSS Analytics said they currently use a telemedicine solution or service.
  • Additionally, 75 percent of 147 health care executives surveyed by HIMSS Analytics said they have a telemedicine or telehealth service. Interest is growing as a means to “improve patient experience, increase access to care and provide continuity of care.”
Providers recognize the business advantages of offering telemedicine services

Like innovations in any industry, telemedicine requires a successful business model to take root, grow and be truly disruptive to the status quo. A number of surveys indicates that providers have recognized the business potential of telemedicine—a potential that’s helping drive adoption. For example:

  • 83 percent of 171 provider executives surveyed by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) said they are “likely” or “very likely” to invest in telemedicine this year. 98 percent of the respondents said telemedicine gives them a competitive advantage over other providers.
  • A study by Carrot Health said 25 percent of patients who used a health system-based telemedicine service for an outpatient consultation ended up receiving in-person care from the same health system within 12 months of their virtual visit. Each new in-person visit generated about $3,000 in additional revenue for the system, the study said.
  • A survey of 436 provider executives and clinicians by REACH Health found that the primary contributor to the return on investment in their telemedicine programs was improved patient satisfaction. Patient satisfaction scores are key measures to determine reimbursement rates from most payers, including Medicare.
Convenience accelerates patient acceptance and use

Innovations with successful business models serve an unmet need by customers. Telemedicine serves the unmet need by patients to access health care services more conveniently—when they want them and where they want them rather than waiting for an in-person visit for care. For example:

  • 66 percent of more than 2,000 consumers who responded to a Harris Poll vendor said they would be willing to see their doctor over video. Of those with primary-care physicians, 65 percent said they would be “very” or “somewhat” interested in seeing their PCP over video. Another 20 percent said they would be willing to switch from their current PCP to one who offered video visits.
  • 64 percent of 500 parents or legal guardians of at least one child under the 18 surveyed by the Nemours Children’s Hospital System said they have or will use telemedicine for their child. The top three reasons cited by the respondents for having their child seen virtually were: more convenient than an in-office visit; more immediate than waiting for an in-office visit; and needed a medical option after their pediatrician’s office was closed. In fact, 74.7 percent said the telemedicine experience was better than an in-person visit to the doctor.
  • However, patients enrolled in government health insurance programs appear less likely to use telemedicine despite having a telemedicine benefit. A Government Accountability Office report said less than 1 percent of Medicare beneficiaries used a telemedicine service in 2014. Less than 1 percent of active military personnel enrolled in Department of Defense programs did so in 2015. The report suggests some patients have trouble accessing or using technology or have limited access to providers with telemedicine capabilities.
Early research shows positive impact of telemedicine clinical outcomes

In addition to the business benefits to providers and increased convenience for patients, telemedicine is proving to be equally effective at improving clinical outcomes. For example:

  • A study in Health Affairs found that telemedicine is increasing access to mental health services for Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas. The study found that telemental health visits per 100 beneficiaries in 2014 rose to 5.3 for any mental illness and 11.8 for a serious mental illness from less than 1 for both in 2004.
  • According to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine, the Los Angeles County Department of Health used a primary-care based telemedicine program to screen more than 21,000 patients for diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in adults. The program increased the annual screening rate by 16. 3 percent and reduced screening wait time by 89.2 percent.
  • A study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that telemedicine was particularly effective in reducing the hospital admission and mortality rates of patients with heart failure. It also found that telemedicine was effective in helping patients manage their chronic medical illnesses.

As these industry reports showcase, telemedicine’s integration into the health care delivery system is maturing and serving to the benefit of both providers and patients alike.

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