Providers: Today’s Telehealth Tech Won’t Work For Future

Posted on July 5, 2016 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.

A new study has concluded that while healthcare leaders see major opportunities for growing their use of telehealth technologies, they don’t think existing technologies will meet the demands of the future.

For the study, which was sponsored by Modern Healthcare and Avizia, researchers surveyed more than 280 healthcare executives to see how they saw the future of telehealth programs and delivery models. For the purposes of the study, they defined telehealth as encompassing a broad mix of healthcare approaches, including consumer-focused wireless applications, remote monitoring of vital signs, patient consultations via videoconferencing, transmission of still images, use of patient portals and continuing medical education.

The survey found that 63% of those surveyed used telehealth in some way. Most respondents were with hospitals (72%), followed by physician groups and clinics (52%) and a grab bag of other provider organizations ambulatory centers in nursing homes (36%).

The most common service lines in use by the surveyed providers included stroke (44%), behavioral health (39%), staff education and training (28%) and primary care (22%). Other practice areas mentioned, such as neurology, pediatrics and cardiology, came in at less than 20%. Meanwhile, when it comes to telehealth applications they wish they had, patient education and training was at the top list at 34%, followed by remote patient home monitoring (30%) and primary care (27%). Other areas on providers’ wish lists include cardiology (25%), behavioral health (24%), urgent care (20%) and wound care (also 20%).

Not only did surveyed providers hope to see telemedicine extended into other service lines, they’d like to see the technologies used for telehealth delivery change as well. Currently, much telehealth is delivered via a computer workstation on wheels or ‘tablet on a stick.’  But providers would like to see technology platforms advance.

For example, 38% would like to see video visits with clinicians supported by their EMR, 25% would like to offer telemedical appointments through a secure messaging app used by providers and 23% would like to deliver telemedical services through personal mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones.

But what’s driving providers’ interest in telehealth? For most (almost 75%) consumer demand is a key reason for pursuing such programs. Large numbers of respondents also cited the ability to improve clinical outcomes (66%) and value-based care (62%).

That being said, to roll out telehealth in force, many respondents (50%) said they’d have to make investments in telehealth technology and infrastructure. And nearly the same number (48%) said they’d have to address reimbursement issues as well. (It’s worth mentioning, however, that at the time the study was being written, the number of states requiring reimbursement parity between telehealth and traditional care had already risen to 29.)

This study underscores some important reasons why providers are embracing telehealth strategies. Another one pointed out by my colleague John Lynn is that telehealth can encourage early interventions which might otherwise be delayed because patients don’t want to bother with an in-person visit to the doctor’s office. Over time, I suspect additional benefits will emerge as well. This is such an exciting use of technology!