Telemedicine – Fad or Future?

In 1968, a book called Five Patients introduced America to telemedicine.  At that time, it seemed more like science fiction than reality.  The book was written by Michael Crichton, who would later become famous for a better known book, Jurassic Park.  Skip ahead to 2015, the Mordor Intelligence report predicted that the telemedicine market will grow to be greater than $34 billion by the end of this decade.  And in February of this year, the Mordor Report was updated and now predicts that the telemedicine market growth will reach $66 billion by 2021.

As the cost of healthcare continues to rise, deductibles continue to increase and companies drop health benefits altogether, telemedicine offers an appealing alternative to traditional healthcare settings.  Telemedicine works well for the elderly, those in care for chronic disease, time bound individuals and the less mobile or rural populations.

Advocates of telemedicine cite several benefits.  Not the least of which is convenience. Patients could access their provider virtually on demand.  It is anticipated that hospital admissions and readmissions will be decreased because of improved patient compliance and ongoing monitoring.  Patients who live in rural areas will have greater access to care and those who are time-bound would be more inclined to set a telemedicine visit then to try and schedule a traditional visit.

The Challenges

Despite the positive aspects, there are factors that stand in the way of immediate growth.  One of the challenges is that many providers 55 or older are more comfortable practicing medicine in traditional settings.  The older they get the less likely they are to want to make changes in how they practice medicine.  And then there are reimbursement and legal issues.  Currently, telemedicine laws for reimbursement are handled state-by-state.  Inconsistencies in reimbursement and legal definitions of what constitutes care are continually addressed by organization like the American Telehealth Association.

It is not unreasonable to assume that such hurdles will be overcome and that telemedicine will indeed grow.  Many have embraced technology and more will demand such access.  More and more physicians will adopt telemedicine in their practices to bring convenient, low-cost, high-quality care to their patients.  Undoubtedly, future physicians and providers will see telemedicine as simply another tool to serve and care for their patients.

For state-by-state information visit the ATA State Policy Resource Center.