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Talkin’ Telehealth

January 26, 2012
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In terms of telemedicine, many industry insiders are predicting that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet

One sector of healthcare IT that will be worth watching over the next few years is telehealth. From the sounds of my recent chat with Jonathan Linkous, the CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, the industry is on the brink of explosive growth.

Jonathan Linkous

The fervor from Linkous is complemented by a recent report by the research firm RNCOS, which estimated the growth of the telemedicine industry to be at approximately 19 percent, compounded annually, from 2010 to 2015. With RNCOS’ research stating the market was at $9.8 billion in 2010, the industry could certainly be headed for an unprecedented boom.

In our chat, Linkous explains seven trends that he says will shape the telemedicine industry over the next few years. All of the trends seemed to have significance, but to me, the most important one is the shift in healthcare from a fee-for-service to the managed care model. This shift, Linkous says, will allow for the decision to use telemedicine in a clinical setting go from payers to physicians. As it stands, government and private payers are reluctant to use telemedicine because of cost issues.

Linkous is confident once this decision is in the hands of practitioners, the use of telemedicine will increase in a variety of medical settings. This one trend could very likely represent the first domino that will fall in the favor of telemedicine. Use of telemedicine is likely to become a standard of care once more physicians use it and then you’ll start to see more remote clinical enterprises pop up.  

If Americans are wary of the impact of teleheleath, they need not look far for a country that is using the practice correctly. Our neighbor across the Atlantic, the U.K., is in the process of installing three million remote patient monitoring devices in the homes of patients across the country. This project, called 3ML (Three Million Lives), comes after the country’s national health department conducted a comprehensive study involving 6,000 chronically ill patients. From the study, the U.K. Department of Health concluded telehealth led to a 45 percent reduction in mortality rates.

From a recent report, it was learned the Brits were actually inspired by the U.S. Veterans Health Administration (VHA) telehealth program in creating 3ML. That begs an obvious question, if the VHA has done it well and Britain want to copy that success, why hasn’t more happened here? Perhaps once the managed care model comes into favor, we’ll know the answer.



The final paragraph makes a good point: the UK has been inspired by the scale of all forms of telehealth adopted by the VA. However, I have to correct the impression given in the penultimate paragraph that England (not the whole UK, by the way) is "in the process of installing three million remote patient monitoring devices in the homes of patients across the country."

The 3ML project, although it has a website and a 'concordat' between the Department of Health and the bigger telehealth industry players, is little more than good intentions and wishful thinking. Given the financial climate of the NHS and the demoralized state of the managers who would otherwise be promoting this change, the chances of the health of 3 million people being monitored remotely any time in the next five years looks pretty slim.

Steve Hards
Editor, Telecare Aware (...Google it)

Thanks for the clarification Steve! I still admire the UK for the "wishful thinking," because it seems to be a more pronounced effort than what we've seen here in the U.S. The situation overseas bears watching.

It's good to see the Brits already on the brink of this new age of medicine. I'm hoping this new age of medical student who are so involved with technology will be developing the need to use their smartphone. Using iPhone, iPad, Android and the internet, these technologies can connect patients to doctors without thinking of travel expenses.

Those communities in more rural areas without a doctor that specializes in a field that the patient is looking for will have the opportunity and chance to be taken care of. It will give them a fighting chance of getting better and increasing survival rate. A simple lift of the phone and the patient can call a doctor and be connected immediately without going through an operator.

I hope the Brits' lead in tele-medicine will be able to bleed over across the pond and propel the U.S. into the transition. I do believe very strongly that tele-medicine is on the rise and now it's just a race to see who gets there first.

Agreed! The implications for the rural community are huge. Thanks for chiming in!