Guest Column | May 8, 2018

Telemedicine: What's Old Is New Again

By Phil Walsh, Cognizant

Telehealth Care

I live in Colorado. We love the outdoors here. There’s plenty of sun and thousands of activities from my personal favorite, golf, to mountain biking, skiing and hiking.

With these activities comes the chance for injury. Injuries come in all shapes and sizes, but it’s those that fall between minor and major that can be addressed through telemedicine.

It’s the injury that’s more than a bruise but less than a broken bone. When you ask the question, “should I go to a doctor?” Telemedicine, used first in hospitals in the 1960s, may be the answer.

Communication Changes

Telemedicine is a growing, cost-effective way to bring medical consultations to remote or underserved areas. It ranges in sophistication from low to high: a conference call to a Snapchat session to robots.

The top three most popular telemedicine platforms, nevertheless, remain old-school communication methods according to a Rock Health survey:

  1. telephone (59 percent)
  2. email (41 percent)
  3. text message (29 percent)

In the United Kingdom, some physicians get creative and use Snapchat, the photo-sharing app, to send specific aspects of patient information to each other, according to the 2017 DeepMind Health Independent Review Panel Annual Report. The issue with this option is patient information security, or the lack of it, on both ends of the transaction and likely in the middle during transmission.

While consumers and providers generally continue to use old-style communication or improvise, the telemedicine market continues to grow significantly.

“The number of patients using telehealth services will rise to 7 million in 2018, up from less than 350,000 in 2013,” according to a report from IHS Markit. Foley & Lardner report the telemedicine market value will reach $36.2 billion by 2020, up from $14.3 billion in 2014. Video-based telemedicine adoption is experiencing rapid growth, increasing from 7 percent in 2015 to 22 percent in 2016, according to Rock Health.

And, naturally, telemedicine is most common among those 25-34 years old, who grew up as digital natives. Those 55 years and older are least likely to use telemedicine, Rock Health reports.

More = More

While some telemedicine may be used for “more” healthcare, others in the healthcare industry view the service’s potential ability to provide “less” care in a remote, integrated framework. Telemedicine, when added to existing healthcare benefits, almost always ensures the use of more resources.

Rand Corporation found healthcare consumers use more medical services, rather than less, when telemedicine is available. Consumers see the service as an add-on to other health benefits. “Researchers estimate that just 12 percent of the telemedicine visits replaced visits to doctor's offices or emergency rooms,” the study found. The other 88 percent of healthcare consumer utilization “represented new use of medical services,” according to the report.

A separate study of healthcare consumers by HealthMine generally seems to support the Rand findings:

  • follow-up care for acute illness (44 percent)
  • symptom tracking or diagnosis (44 percent)
  • medication management (44 percent)

Healthcare’s Telemedicine Option

Whether one views telemedicine as a way to increase consumer healthcare options, a way to decrease use of services and cost or some combination, it appears telemedicine will continue to grow as a means of diagnosis and treatment.

As consumers grow confident in their use of telemedicine, they will insist on the development of new and more convenient services. The organizations providing solutions will fulfill these requests in an effort to maintain and gain market share with new products and solutions.

Healthcare consumers in today’s on-demand world know what they want: Access to healthcare services on their terms, in real time and in the privacy of their own homes. Using telemedicine at home may help lower healthcare costs as patients get a better understanding of what’s emergent, what’s not and where an ailment or injury, no matter how it happens, fits into the continuum of care.

About The Author

Phil Walsh is Chief Marketing Officer for Healthcare and Life Sciences at Cognizant, a Fortune 500 company.