By Ken Congdon, editor in chief, Health IT Outcomes
Over the past two years, I've written several articles about the potential impact telehealth technologies can have on the U.S. healthcare system. However, a few obstacles (e.g. reimbursement issues, physician collaboration requirements, etc.) have prevented telehealth from achieving widespread adoption. This trend may be about to change as some recent developments are spurring demand for telehealth services. The following are four key reasons why now is an ideal time for your healthcare facility to invest in telehealth solutions.
Reason #1: Rural America Needs Telehealth — As referenced last month in my article HIT Must ‘Go Rural,' demand for access to healthcare professional is higher than ever in rural America. Rural areas already have limited access to primary care physicians and specialists, and this physician shortage will only become more significant under healthcare reform as eight million additional rural residents become insured under state- and government-subsidized insurance plans. Telehealth technologies can provide rural residents with remote access with doctors and specialists in urban areas in their own state, across the country, or around the world. This shift in the way healthcare services are delivered will be instrumental in addressing the medical needs of rural communities.
Reason #2: Telehealth Can Reduce The Cost Of Chronic Disease Management — According to Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, approximately 75% of the $2.2 trillion the U.S. spends on healthcare each year goes toward fighting chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Telehealth technologies, such as videoconferencing and remote patient monitoring devices, give physicians the ability to monitor a patient's condition in real-time without requiring the patient to come in for an office visit. Real-time visibility into the patient conditions also allow the physicians to recognize potential health issues before they turn into medical emergencies — reducing the number of hospital admissions. All of these factors help reduce the cost of managing chronic diseases and the cost of healthcare overall. In fact, the FCC recently acknowledged the cost-cutting potential of telehealth, saying the technology could possibly save the healthcare industry $700 billion over the next 15 to 25 years.
Reason #3: Health IT Investing Is Up — Investment in not only telehealth, but health IT in general is on the rise overall in the U.S. This is saying something, given the volatile state of the global economy. Furthermore, investment interest isn't just coming from healthcare companies, but some of the top general technology names in the world. Companies like Microsoft, Google, Intel, HP, and IBM all have significant health IT interests. All in all, 38 of the Fortune 50 companies currently have substantial investments in the health IT space, compared to just five companies 10 years ago.
Reason #4: A Major Barrier To Telehealth Is Gone — In May, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) passed a new rule that streamlines the process in which hospitals collaborate with physicians remotely via telehealth technology. Prior to the new rule, if a physician or hospital needed to consult with a specialist across the country, special privileges would need to be granted to the remote doctor ahead of time. This wasn't an ideal scenario, particularly in emergency situations. Under the new rule, CMS has revised its credentialing and privileging requirements to eliminate theses impediments and allow for the advancement of telehealth nationwide.
The drivers listed above have telehealth poised to explode in the coming years. Insurance reimbursement issues still remain, but we may actually begin to see some accelerated movement in these areas in the coming months as well, given the significant corporate investment and government support of telehealth technologies in the U.S. Once this obstacle is removed, there would be nothing to prevent telehealth from widespread adoption.
Have a comment or feedback for Ken on this article? He can be reached directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.