Telehealth in 2018: What Can We Expect?

In many ways, 2017 has been a banner year for telehealth and mHealth, from the introduction (and in some cases, passage) of more than 200 bills in state legislatures, to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) proposed rule making it easier for the agency’s practitioners to treat patients across state lines, to continued investment in the industry. But what can we expect in 2018? That was the question that researchers from the Center for Connected Medicine, a partner of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), posed to a group of health system executives in “Top of Mind for Top U.S. Health Systems 2018,” their examination of health IT trends. As Fierce Healthcare and others first reported, the respondents are planning on making continued investments in numerous areas of health IT, while also expressing concern about cybersecurity, reimbursement, and other matters. Said UPMC Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Rasu Shrestha in a press release accompanying the findings, “We value additional insights into how health systems view key challenges and promising innovations so we are able to collectively lift each other’s boats and push the boundaries of innovation.”

The respondents to the survey, which focused on five key areas of health IT (cybersecurity, consumer-facing technology, predictive analytics, virtual care, and artificial intelligence), expressed optimism about wearable devices and mHealth apps, particularly when it comes to boosting patient engagement. “As health care consumers become more involved in their care and expect a consumer-centric experience, health systems can offer a more satisfactory experience to patients with the integration of these technologies,” the report notes. Indeed, 100 percent of respondents said that they were planning on promoting health and wellness apps to their patients. They also planned on making varying degrees of investment in wearable devices and predictive analytics. Ranking lower on the agenda for most organizations: artificial intelligence, with almost two-thirds of respondents categorizing it as, currently, “a low or very low priority” given that the technologies are still in their infancy; at the same time, more than 50 percent of the systems surveyed were either already using or were planning to deploy AI.

But the executives also had some concerns as the new year approaches. For one, cybersecurity is a cause of worry, as large-scale health care data breaches have continued to make headlines. To that end, 92 percent of respondents reported that they “plan to increase spending on technology to boost cybersecurity in 2018,” notes the press release. In addition, two-thirds also “said they are increasing non-C suite cybersecurity staff.” The familiar issue of limited reimbursement, too, is still a source of frustration, with only 39 percent of respondents stating that their organization received reimbursement for telehealth visits, and 45 percent reporting that they were reimbursed for remote monitoring. All the same, respondents indicated that they firmly believed in virtual care, and that lack of reimbursement wasn’t a significant impediment. “The lack of reimbursement has not affected our strategy,” one CIO told the researchers. “We have moved forward because it’s the right thing to do.” In addition, over 70 percent of those not currently receiving reimbursement reported that they would begin receiving it in 2018.

Click here to read the Fierce Healthcare article on telehealth predictions for 2018. 

Click here to read the full report from the Center for Connected Medicine.

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