What's the prognosis for telehealth? Medical professionals have technologies they need; some state legislatures are enacting supportive laws, and both employers and employees tout the benefits. Yet other states have let proposals wither, insurers aren't sure how to charge for services, and physicians worry about liability and patient care.
The benefits of telehealth are obvious. Sick patients need not travel, improving patient satisfaction and reducing the risk of spreading easily diagnosed viruses across waiting rooms and public transportation. Provider costs are reduced. And the overall toll on America's economy drops, as employees can often continue working -- whether it's from home or even their place of business -- instead of visiting a physician for a minor ailment.
In more complex or serious cases, telehealth brings specialized care to remote patients. It gives more doctors access to expensive pieces of equipment. And it improves the quality of life -- even the length of life -- for more people around the world.
Yet not everyone is thrilled about telehealth. Here's a look at the market today, who's adopting it, what's holding it back, and what we can expect next. Click on the first picture to begin the slideshow.
Consumer access to smartphones and tablets, high-speed networks, and videoconferencing solutions are encouraging doctors and patients to communicate electronically. Two-thirds of physicians were projected to use tablets this year, according to a 2012 study by Manhattan Research, and 85 percent of doctors were using smartphones last year. Physicians appear to be embracing video, too: the study found that more than two-thirds of doctors were using this medium to learn and keep current with clinical information. Doylestown Hospital staff (pictured), for example, rely on iPhones to enhance communication, diagnose treatments, and deliver patient care.
Good points, Mr. Roques. We need to make certain it is not a pretext for eliminating the positive parts of the system (i.e., good people) that make for good healthcare. It needs to be an added extension. When that happens, it becomes what Alison is envisioning, which is increased access to quality of care.
That must be an interesting project, Mr. Roques. I can understand some employees' concerns about losing their jobs, although I haven't seen any reports that show telehealth as a way to cut staff. It's usually shown as a way to improve healthcare by seeing more patients with existing staff; of giving more people access to medicine, and of improving quality of life since some people won't have to live in nursing homes/rehab. What type of employees are they who are worried about their jobs and is this one of the goals of the project or are their fears unrealized and just a normal part of change?
I'm part of the workgroup that is evaluating the state of eHealth for the Dominican Republic. We have done a good amount of work towards concentrating information and being able to access it remotely (for restock issues to epidemiology issues) but we have faced some issues with ICT adoption, some employees fear that it would make them replaceable.
Adoption of Telehealth when appropriately done would be a good thing, Technology has its positive side and that is what we need to capitalize on - using technology to deliver positive health solutions.
And given Kaiser's relationship with the government and its past involvement in helping to define the healthcare legislation, it does bode well that the provider is rolling out some telehealth solutions. Hopefully its experiences will help guide the feds into forging a clearer path for insurers, providers, and patients.
Thanks, DHagar. The healthcare industry has been bombarded by change, perhaps more change than any other business in recent years, in both technology and policy. Telehealth initiatives fit nicely into everyone's desire to cut costs and improve patient care. With an aging population, longer life expectancy for people with longterm illnesses and disabilities, and the doctor shortage, telehealth programs are a really smart way way to partially cope with what would otherwise be an unsurmountable challenge. I really hope big business, industry groups, and consumers will force insurers and government to act fast to eliminate these artifical speedbumps.
Agreed, Mitch, it is an efficient extension to the delivery system.
Great information, Alison. Good points about the political opposition. The demand is there (i.e., patients, employers). What I think will create the breakthrough will be the cost comparisons and the demand that we make this a fully recognized part of the healthcare system.
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