Telemedicine Becoming Popular, But Seldom Profitable

Posted on October 18, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

New research suggests that while most physicians are supportive of telemedicine, others have grave reservations about providing this type of care, and that more than half of organizations aren’t making money delivering telemedicine services.

In an effort to learn more about attitudes toward telemedicine, Reaction Data surveyed 386 physicians, physician leaders, IT leaders and nurse leaders as well as differences in adoption levels between different types of organizations.,

Some of the top benefits of telemedicine cited by respondents included that it helped providers to meet demand for simpler and more cost-effective care delivery (28%), allowed them to treat more patients (23%) and that it was easing demands on staff (19%). Interestingly, just 10% said that telemedicine was proving to be a viable source of revenue, and elsewhere in the survey, 14% reported that telemedicine was revenue-negative.

The majority of physicians (68%) reported that they were in favor of telemedicine, while another 15% took a neutral position. Only 17% didn’t support widespread telemedicine use.

Their responses varied more, however, when it came to how much of care could be effectively delivered via telemedicine.

Thirty-two percent felt that 0 to 20% of care could be delivered this way; 33% of physician respondents felt that 30 to 40% care could be delivered digitally; 19% of respondents said 50 to 60% of care could be provided via telemedicine; 14% felt that 70 to 80% of care could be provided digitally. Just 2% felt that 90 to 100% of care could be delivered via this channel.

When it came to actually delivering the care themselves — rather than a hypothetical situation — respondents seemed less flexible. For example, 33% said that they would never contract with an outsourced telemedicine company to provide patient consults.

On the other hand, 50% said they’d considered moonlighting as a telemedicine consultant, 7% said they’d already done so frequently, 8% said they delivered such consults occasionally 2% said that was all they did for a living.

Regardless, many healthcare organizations are adopting this approach on a corporate level. Sixty-one percent of hospitals in a health system said they adopted telemedicine: 40% of standalone hospitals had done so; 58% practices owned by a health system has that this technology. Only 17% of physician-owned practices had done so, which could reflect cultural issues, costs or technology adoption concerns.

Physicians that were delivering telemedicine services most often used them to reach patients in rural areas (24%), provide follow-up care (24%) and manage specific patient populations (23%).

Among organizations that haven’t adopted telemedicine, many are scarcely getting their feet wet. While one in three providers are evaluating telemedicine options currently, 20% are two years or more away from adoption and 26% said they would never move in this direction.

Meanwhile, roughly one-third of physician-owned practices reported that they would never adopt telemedicine. One responding physician called it “inherent malpractice,” and another called it a “blatant attempt to circumvent the physical examination.” It seems unlikely that these clinicians will change their views on this topic.