A recent study by a Baltimore-based healthcare research firm, Sage Growth Partners, reveals something of a mixed message coming from the healthcare executive suite. Leaders overwhelming agree that telemedicine is a high priority, but not all are ready to fully invest in its implementation. The research sheds some light on why that is the case.
The study, which included 100 healthcare decision makers found that 57% have already launched a telehealth or telemedicine platform. About half have launched their own service, and the other half is working with a vendor. Of those that have not yet launched a solution, 24 percent are actively looking at their options, and 20 percent are just beginning to learn more about the possibilities. Remarkably 86% see telemedicine as a medium or high priority.
So why is there a gap between prioritization and action?
The survey results point to concern about ROI. When asked about achieving a positive return on investment for telehealth or telemedicine, three-quarters said they expect to see an ROI within three years. However, a scant 9 percent expect telemedicine visits to make up at least a fourth of their patient encounters. Most – almost 80 percent – predict that remote services will contribute less than 15 percent of their overall revenue in that same time frame.
In a press release accompanying the survey, Sage’s CEO, Dan D’Orazio, explained that there is a great deal of interest in telemedicine and people recognize its certain place in the future of healthcare delivery, but the purse strings are not yet wide open. “There has been an incredible amount of hype around telemedicine,” he said. “Our survey reveals that, despite its potential to transform many critical areas of care, more than two in five organizations have not yet adopted telemedicine. And for those hospitals and health systems that have made the leap, their budgets are still modest. Reimbursement and regulatory issues have been a huge factor in slowing the adoption of telemedicine, but a lot can change, and quickly — having CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) increase its reimbursement for telehealth would significantly accelerate its implementation. The value that telemedicine can deliver is clear to healthcare executives, but they must see a return on investment before they will increase their investments from modest to meaningful.”
The survey found that two-thirds of respondents have budgeted $250,000 or less for telemedicine, with one-fourth budgeting between $25000 and $1 million. Just 9 percent have a budget that exceeds $1 million. Almost 75 percent expect a budget increase next year, though for most it will be a bump of 25 percent or less.
In addition to the ability to perform episodic encounters via video, executives also see the advantages of remote patient monitoring, with 75 percent of respondents saying they want to use telemedicine to monitor patients at home. Currently, 21 percent have remote monitoring programs in place, but only 4 percent are using the approach for post-acute specialty care.
Other interesting findings in the Sage survey:
- Three-quarters of those surveyed say telemedicine has the potential to improve the standard of care for behavioral health and psychiatry, while over 50 percent see that potential in primary care and neurology and just under 50 percent see the potential in cardiology.
- Seventy percent believe that telehealth has already improved the standard of care in stroke care.
- In hospitals, telemedicine is most often used for emergency cases – 20 percent. Non-emergency care makes up one-fifth of the programs in place.
- There is significant interest in using telemedicine in outpatient clinics and primary care, with 70 percent of respondents attracted to the idea.
- HIPAA compliance tops the list of requirements with 92% placing it first. It is followed by high-quality audio and video (74%), the reliability of the connection (70%), 24×7 technical support (70%), ease of use (69%), and EHR integration 67%.
- Respondents were less interested in smartphone apps for patient-initiated consults (19%), help with provider shortages (16%), and clinical and operational workflow (8%).
The study’s authors conclude that “Reimbursement and regulatory issues have slowed the adoption of telemedicine and prevented systems from investing more in this potentially transformational way of delivering care. Nonetheless, healthcare executives today are convinced of the clinical value of telemedicine in numerous specialties and use cases. Most have already seen the value of telemedicine in treating strokes, while other specialties are playing catch-up along the maturity curve.”
The good news is that reimbursement policies and regulations are changing very quickly. Given the high interest from both providers and patients, the adoption of telemedicine will only continue to accelerate.