According to Stratistics MRC, the Global Telemedicine Market is accounted for $21.56 billion in 2017 and is expected to reach $93.45 billion by 2026. That massive number includes telemonitoring, tele-education, remote training, video consultation, telesurgery, telecare, and other related services.
The widespread availability of high-speed internet connections and high-definition cameras in computers and mobile devices is one factor that has made growth in remote healthcare services possible. But several other trends are motivating the rapid adoption of telehealth technologies as a way to extend the capabilities of the health system in the United States.
All signs indicate that 2019 will be the biggest year yet for telehealth. Here are a few of the reasons why.
The Ageing Population
The number of people aged 65 and over in the United States is expected to be 83.7 million by 2050. That’s almost double the population of older people in 2012. The “Baby Boom” generation earned its nickname. In addition, people are living much longer. Demographers now assume that half of the people born since the start of the 21st century in the US and other developed countries will live to be 100 years old.
While this is good news, the reality is that older people develop more, and more complicated medical conditions and needs. One of the biggest challenges for the healthcare system over the decades to come will be figuring out how to provide adequate and cost-effective care for this population. Telemedicine will have an essential role in solving this predicament by reducing the need for expensive in-office visits and making it easier for patients to maintain their health.
The Looming Provider Shortage
The US is projected to grow by nearly 12%, from approximately 321 million to 359 million people between 2015 and 2030. However, studies predict that physician demand will continue to grow faster than supply, creating a projected total physician shortfall of between 40,800 and 104,900 physicians by 2030. There are expected to be gaps in every area of care.
By making it possible for providers to see more patients each day, telemedicine is a key technology that will help the healthcare system make the most efficient use of every available physician. In addition to increasing productivity, it also removes geographic barriers that hamper access to care by allowing people to have access to specialists even if they aren’t in a highly populated area. Virtual care also streamlines collaboration between providers when coordinated care is essential.
An Increase in Chronic Conditions
An estimated 117 million people are affected by chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, cancer, stroke, depression, and obesity. People who suffer from chronic conditions make up 91% of all prescriptions filled, 81% of hospital admissions, and 76% of physician visits. The problem is only expected to grow with an estimated 164 million Americans (nearly half of the population) impacted by 2025.
The good news is that video visits are ideal for the treatment of many chronic conditions. Providers can manage medications, provide lifestyle counseling, review test results, and manage a treatment plan using remote visits. This approach makes it easier for patients to stay engaged in the management of their healthcare and removes obstacles like work responsibilities, transportation expenses, and long wait times. Consistent care and compliance are essential for those with prolonged illness.
Changing Reimbursement Laws and Policies
It is quite common for laws and institutional policies to lag far behind advances in technology. That has certainly been true for many aspects of healthcare, but fortunately, policymakers are recognizing the benefits of telemedicine and working quickly to catch up, especially regarding provider reimbursement for remote services.
More than 75% of states now have some type of telemedicine law on the books that requires private payers to reimburse providers for video visits and other forms of telemedicine. The rules vary by state, but many require payment that is on par with an in-office encounter. Some insurance companies such as UnitedHealthcare have embraced telemedicine as a way to control costs while providing quality care and have adopted policies that reimburse physicians for video visits even in states where they are not required to do so.
We mustn’t forget that, on some level, healthcare is a business. Patients are the consumers of healthcare services, and their preferences make a big difference in the market. According to a survey by American Well, one in five consumers is willing to switch primary care practices to one that offers telemedicine. Patients are attracted by the convenience, time savings, and reduced out of pocket costs that video visits provide. That’s why 67 percent of adults ages 45-64 are willing to have an online telehealth visit for help managing a chronic condition.
These factors will all contribute to the exponential growth of telemedicine. Healthcare providers, technology vendors, and payers should be prepared to get on board or get left behind.