Doubling in Telehealth Investment by 2018? Predictions From New Study

And the body of literature predicting exponential growth in telehealth investment in the coming years continues to grow. As Hospitals & Health Networks Magazine first reported, a recent benchmark study from Becker’s Healthcare and direct-to-consumer telehealth company Teladoc found that, in 2018, the number of United States health systems offering telehealth programs will likely be almost twice what it was in 2016. “Hospitals are pursuing telehealth as a way to expand access to care, make care more convenient for patients, create new efficiencies, improve care coordination, prevent readmissions, better monitor and treat at-risk populations, and expand population health programs,” Teladoc’s Dr. Alan Roga explains in Hospitals & Health Networks.

The study, which was conducted via a wide-ranging December 2016 survey of 179 health care industry stakeholders from throughout the country, found that an overwhelming 89 percent of respondents who currently have programs considered consumer telehealth to be a “high priority,” along with 83 percent of those who planned to implement a program within the next two years. Among those surveyed, 39 percent of organizations reported that they already had a telehealth program, while an additional 37 percent of organizations were planning to implement a program within the next two years—for a total of 76 percent of the organizations represented in the study. Of the programs that already in place, most (61 percent) offer urgent care or emergency telehealth services, or primary and/or pediatric care (61 percent). Respondents who were planning telehealth programs reported that they would focus on a range of specialties, including chronic condition monitoring (23 percent), cardiology (23 percent), and psychiatry (20 percent), among others.

Why the projected dramatic increase in utilization among health systems? The researchers cite familiar reasons, including the potential for improved access to care for patients, increased efficiency in the delivery of care, and better coordination of care. Not ranking quite as high on the list: cutting costs. As Teladoc’s Roga explained, “Telehealth adoption is being driven more by the desire to improve care than to reduce cost.” Specifically, “70 percent of organizations that offer telehealth programs say patient satisfaction is the most important element of program success, compared to 28 percent who say it is return on investment.” As other studies have, the Becker’s/Teladoc team also identified “obstacles and indications of immaturity” when it came to telehealth utilization. Among them: limited reimbursement and the challenge of integration with electronic health records. Reimbursement was also cited as a concern by those who had no plans to invest in telehealth in the next two years. Generally, the study’s findings echo those of other researchers; an American Telemedicine Association (ATA) survey of health care executives earlier this year, for example, found that 83 percent of health care organizations have plans to invest in telehealth and mHealth in the next year. Only one percent of respondents had no plans to do so at any point in the future.

Click here to read the Hospitals & Health Networks article on the Becker’s/Teladoc study.

Click here to view the results of the Becker’s/Teladoc study.

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