With the recent projection that telemedicine will reach 1.8 million patients worldwide by 2017, I think it’s fitting to continue the discussion I started last week pertaining to the current ROI of EMRs. While current utilization based on scrambling to meet Meaningful Use for federal incentives may not be all it’s cracked up to be, I do believe EMRs will ultimately provide a fiscally sensible return on investment, especially if telemedicine technology becomes part of any given vendor’s standard EMR package/offering.
I decided to bounce the idea off Sande Olson, a Twitter friend (@sandeolson) and Senior Healthcare Consultant at Olson & Associates. Being a healthcare professional that has worked in telemedicine long enough to witness its evolution, Olson seemed a fitting expert to speak with on the subject of EMRs, telemedicine and the bottom line.
How have you seen the telemedicine landscape change over the last few years?
Olson: Until recently, telemedicine has been a niche industry. Early users recognized the potential value of telemedicine, but successful business models (showing a viable ROI) didn’t exist, and technology was costly. The challenge was reimbursement; who was going to pay for it? Without reimbursement or a viable business model, telemedicine could not go viral.
The telemedicine landscape began to change with advancements in information and communication technology on the heels of The Affordable Care Act. The push for healthcare reform provided financial incentives to “nudge” healthcare providers towards EMRs. Reform mandates and the availability of government funding created new opportunities around technology. Telemedicine, a valuable if fledgling technology, became a buzzword around technology and healthcare reform.
Industries saw business opportunity as solution providers for an “industry poised to undergo radical change.” Entrepreneurs, inventors, investors and healthcare visionaries followed new and sometimes disruptive ideas. Care delivery tools moved from PCs to tablets, along with mobile apps.
The confluence of all these influencers is creating a potential tipping point for telemedicine; it only needs wider reimbursement and licensure portability. Our aging population and forecasted physician shortage will help continue to thrust telemedicine into the forefront of change. Telemedicine is already being used successfully; reimbursement is still a challenge. But, healthcare innovation is just getting started. We have challenging times ahead, but this is also the most exciting time to be in healthcare ever!
Do you think there’s been a trickle down effect from the Affordable Care Act in terms of increasing interest in and adoption of telemedicine?
There has been a trickle-down effect on telemedicine. The Affordable Care Act has increased interest in exploring the possibilities of telemedicine outside of previous niche markets. As I noted, it is the confluence of influencers around healthcare reform that continues to push the tipping point for telemedicine.
Do you think EMRs will prove their worth in the coming years by better facilitating more novel methods of healthcare delivery, like telemedicine, or integrating with consumer-friendly mobile health apps?
Will EMRs prove their worth? Well, data silos do not support healthcare’s philosophy of providing a continuum of care from cradle to grave. And, you cannot provide care without a medical record; you can’t measure outcomes. So, interoperability– across all silos– is critical to successful healthcare reform. EMRs today may fall a bit short, but they will create efficiencies and improve patient outcomes. They will get simpler to use. EMRs will assist in improving reimbursement and revenue cycles. And, future EMRs will push and pull data from HIEs, PHRs and mobile health apps; we are just not there yet.