The telehealth industry is maturing, evolving rapidly from specialty to mainstream status, according to a recent report from REACH health, an Alpharetta, Ga.-based technology company specializing in telemedicine solutions.
Overall, 233 healthcare executives, physicians, nurses and other professionals participated in the survey, providing input related to their priorities, objectives and challenges, telemedicine program models and management structures, service lines and settings of care, and their telemedicine platforms.
The survey found that with a growing population of aging and unhealthy individuals, coupled with increasing shortages of specialist physicians, telemedicine is evolving from a specialty offering to a mainstream service. Nearly 60 percent of survey participants noted telemedicine as their top priority or one of their highest priorities for their healthcare organizations. The maturity of telemedicine programs varies widely among both service lines and settings of care. In general, the higher acuity settings requiring highly specialized treatment are more mature than lower acuity settings requiring generalized treatment, according to the data.
What’s more, “improved reputation” was at the top of the list of ROI drivers, which is surprising because this is generally regarded as a soft driver versus a hard driver such as reimbursements, according to the report’s authors. “This could indicate a changing mindset in healthcare as we move away from fee-for-service-based reimbursements. It could also reflect the inconsistent, ever-changing state of telemedicine reimbursements,” they said. Another big ROI driver was greater physician productivity, which shows that telemedicine is delivering on one of its key promises, the authors concluded.
Additionally, reimbursement, both government and private, poses the primary obstacle to success. Even when effective mitigation of challenges is taken into account, reimbursement continues to present the most formidable obstacle, respondents said. Other challenges however, such as the cost of supporting technology, show encouraging signs of abatement.
A variety of program attributes were tested in the study and correlated with program success. Some, such as the priority of the telemedicine program as ranked among other hospital priorities, exhibit a predictably strong correlation with success. Others, such as the degree of focus for the program manager, exhibit a surprisingly high correlation to program success, higher even than executive support and adequacy of funding, according to the report.