Telemedicine finally seems to be gaining traction in healthcare. In early August, Mordor Intelligence released a research report titled Global Telemedicine Market — Growth, Trends & Forecasts (2015-2020) that predicts the global market for telemedicine will be worth more than $34 billion by the end of the decade. North America is recognized as the largest contributor to this growth, accounting for more than 40 percent of the global market size.
Researchers say a growing aged population, increasing incidences of chronic diseases, and a rapid rise in the software market are key growth drivers for telemedicine. Furthermore, healthcare providers (e.g., health systems, hospitals, physicians) that have historically been reluctant to adopt telemedicine are now gravitating toward the technology for numerous reasons. First, many of the reimbursement barriers surrounding telemedicine have been removed throughout the country. More importantly, health providers are beginning to realize the benefits this technology can deliver providers, patients, and the overall healthcare system. Specifically, providers view telemedicine as a key way to reduce the number of hospital or office visits, hospital length of stay, and readmissions.
Announcements of high-profile healthcare facilities embracing telemedicine have been prevalent over the past few months. For example, in June, the Cleveland Clinic announced it is partnering with AmericaWell to offer MyCare Online — a telemedicine service that allows patients immediate access to virtual visits with a doctor or qualified healthcare provider for a flat fee of $49. Similarly, in July, Mass General announced that it will allow patients to begin seeking second opinions using an online medicine service.
While healthcare providers finally seem to be getting on board with telemedicine, it appears patients may be the latest obstacle impeding the widespread use of the technology. According to a recent nationwide study conducted by TechnologyAdvice Research, approximately 75 percent of patients reported that they either would not trust a diagnosis made via telemedicine or would trust this method less than an in-office visit.
“If patients don’t trust the diagnoses made during telemedicine calls, they may ignore the advice given, fail to take preventative steps, or seek additional in-person appointments, which defeats the point of telemedicine,” says Cameron Graham, managing editor at TechnologyAdvice.
As troubling as these findings are, they aren’t entirely unexpected. New ways of doing things typically create a feeling of uncertainty in people. Similar trust issues were prevalent in the early days of online banking and e-commerce — both practices that are ubiquitous today. However, while privacy and fear were the root of initial apprehension surrounding online banking and shopping, it’s fear that an exam won’t be as thorough or accurate that worries patients about telemedicine. Healthcare providers will need to work with patients to build trust in the technology and validate its effectiveness.
I for one can’t wait for the day when I no longer have to physically travel to my doctor’s office to get a diagnosis for a routine sore throat, cough, or skin rash. The upside of telemedicine definitely outweighs the potential drawbacks. I believe trust in the technology will come with time and repeated exposure. Before we know it, virtual visits will be the new norm, and patients won’t be able to imagine how we ever lived without them.