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Investment in Telehealth Will Skyrocket This Year. Here’s Why.

telehealth adoptionEach year the American Telemedicine Association conducts a research study to assess the state of the telemedicine industry from the point of view of healthcare executives. The primary goals are to gauge the competitive advantages of offering telehealth related services, discover the appetite for investing in telehealth this year, and gain intelligence about trends and the future of telemedicine. The survey was completed by 171 healthcare executives including telehealth service providers, healthcare practices, and hospital systems. If there was any lingering doubt that the tipping point for telemedicine has been reached, the results of this research should put it to rest.

83% Of Respondents are Likely or Very Likely to Invest in Telehealth This Year

The vast majority of survey participants are going to be spending money on telemedicine in 2017, with 88% claiming they have plans to do so. Astonishingly, only 1% of participants said that they will not be making an investment in telehealth this year. That’s a pretty resounding vote in favor of telehealth, but why?

Competitive Advantage and Reach are Driving Adoption

When asked whether or not they believe that telehealth services create a competitive advantage over other providers, 98% of the leaders surveyed said yes. In addition, 84% responded that they feel strongly or very strongly that the availability of telehealth services expands an organization’s coverage and reach.

“This executive leadership survey confirms undeniably today’s leaders view telemedicine as a major driver in transforming healthcare,” said Jonathan Linkous, CEO, American Telemedicine Association. “It comes as no surprise that 98% of survey respondents believe telehealth services create a competitive advantage, and I anticipate tremendous growth in the market as we continue to move toward more patient-centered solutions.”

Our customers consistently echo this same view. Healthcare practices face increasing competition from retail walk-in clinics, hospital-owned urgent care centers, and online only telehealth providers. Continuity of care is important for patients, but the convenience of remote visits is enough to make alternatives to a traditional office visit attractive for many. Practices can level out the playing field by offering telemedicine in addition to in-person care. This allows providers to strengthen patient loyalty, ensure optimal health outcomes, and increase practice revenue.

Reimbursement Remains a Significant Challenge

Although many states have adopted telehealth parity laws and large insurers are starting to get behind telehealth, reimbursement is still a top concern for healthcare executives, with more than 77% citing inadequate coverage and payments as a key issue. To address this, some telehealth technology platforms offer reimbursement verification or even guarantee payment for verified visits.

The second most selected challenge to telehealth was licensure and privileges (52%). Although state laws related to the practice of telemedicine still vary, 17 states have enacted legislation in an attempt to expand access to health care through expedited medical licensure. The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact is an expedited licensing process for physicians that are interested in practicing medicine in more than one state. The Compact goals are to expand access to health care, especially to those in rural and underserved areas, and to facilitate the use of telehealth in the delivery of health care.

Resistance to change was the third most common challenge noted by study participants (50%). Concerns about privacy remain but were cited by only 15% as a top concern. This is likely due to the fact that modern, purpose-built telemedicine solutions are designed with security and HIPAA compliance as critical features.

Consumer Demand Propels Telemedicine

Providers plan to adopt telehealth technology despite these challenges because they are compelled to do so by consumer demand. Almost half of respondents selected consumer demand as the factor that will propel telehealth over the next three years. This is backed up by other research that makes it clear the market is ready for this alternative channel for healthcare delivery.

The shift to value-based delivery was also noted by participants (26%), as was the need to reduce the cost of care (12%).

Advances in Patient-Centered Healthcare Motivate Leaders

The survey participants were also in accord on the subject of which advances in telehealth they are most excited about in the coming year. More than two-thirds see an improved patient experience as a top motivation for the adoption of telemedicine technology. Half were as excited about the ability to create a more streamlined interaction between telehealth solutions and the EHR.

This report confirms that customers want the option of telemedicine and that providers recognize that offering it is essential to remaining competitive. There are still challenges to adoption, but strong market forces are compelling providers to find solutions. Technology providers, state legislators and regulators, insurers, and the providers themselves all have important roles to play as telemedicine becomes a mainstream channel for healthcare delivery in the US.