Telemedicine continues to evolve from a specialty-centric offering to a mainstream technology service and a growing number of healthcare professionals regard telemedicine as one of their highest priorities for their healthcare organization, a recent survey finds.
Reach Health’s 2016 U.S. Telemedicine Industry Benchmark Survey surveyed 390 healthcare professionals, including executives, physicians, nurses and other professionals, and gathered input on their priorities, objectives and challenges, telemedicine program models and management structures, service lines and settings of care and their telemedicine platforms.
Reach Health, a telemedicine software company, also compared the findings to the results of its 2015 survey to better understand trends and changes in telemedicine.
Among the key findings in the survey, nearly two-thirds of survey participants (66 percent) noted telemedicine as their top priority or one of their highest priorities for their healthcare organizations, which represents a 10 percent increase from 2015. According to the survey report authors, telemedicine continues to evolve from a specialty offering to a mainstream service, “due in part to a growing population of aging and unhealthy individuals, coupled with increased shortages of specialist physicians.”
When surveyed about top objectives for telemedicine programs, patient-oriented objectives, including patient outcomes, improving patient convenience and increasing patient engagement and satisfaction, occupy the top three positions as the most common objectives.
When asked to rate their success in achieving telemedicine program objectives, respondents indicated a high degree of success with those same top three patient-oriented objectives (improving patient outcomes, improving patient convenience and increasing patient engagement). Respondents indicated the highest degree of success with providing remote or rural patients with access to specialists.
The survey report also takes a look at the telemedicine program attributes that are most highly correlated with success. According to the survey report authors, some attributes exhibit a strong correlation with success, such as the priority of the telemedicine program as ranked among other hospital priorities. For instance, telemedicine programs ranked as a top priority are 62 percent more likely (76 percent versus 47 percent) to be highly successful than those ranked as a low priority.
“Others, such as the degree of focus for the program manager, also exhibit a high correlation to program success. Executive support reveals a significantly higher correlation to success than adequacy of funding,” the survey authors wrote. Telemedicine programs with a dedicated program manager or coordinator are 43 percent more likely (67 percent versus 46 percent ) to be highly successful than those with a program manager or coordinator that spends less than half of their time focused on the program, the survey findings showed.
The survey also addressed telemedicine program challenges and survey participants identified and ranked their challenges in terms of those that remain unaddressed, partially addressed, fully addressed or not a challenge. Not surprisingly, issues related to reimbursement and electronic medical record systems post the top impediments to telemedicine, accounting for six out of the top seven challenges.
Among EMR systems challenges, respondents identified lack of common EHR/EMR in hub and spoke hospitals, lack of integration with current EHR/EMR and lack of native capabilities in EHR/EMR as top impediments. EMR challenges that remain unaddressed outnumber by more than 2 times those that have been fully addressed.
“Reimbursement, both government and private, is creating the most significant obstacle to success, accounting for all of the top three unaddressed challenges to telemedicine,” the study authors wrote. “In spite of ongoing challenges related to reimbursement and EMR systems, healthcare providers continue to actively plan, implement and expand telemedicine programs.”
Respondents also identified determining return on investment (ROI) as a challenge, however the survey authors note that improving financial return was least frequently cited as a top objective, “possibly indicating that challenges related to determining ROI are not currently a major concern.”
And, although physician compensation remains relatively high on the list of challenges (22 percent cited it as an unaddressed challenge), physician acceptance has improved compared to 2015 and is relatively low on the list of challenges.
The survey also found that the maturity of telemedicine programs varies widely among both service lines and settings of care. In general, settings requiring highly specialized treatment are more mature than those requiring generalized treatment. One notable exception is e-visits and primary care physicians, which have grown rapidly during the last three years. “Regardless of maturity, activity remains high in terms of implementation and planning across all care settings,” the survey authors wrote.
And, as the telemedicine industry continues to mature, hospitals and healthcare systems exhibit an increasing trend toward an enterprise approach to telemedicine, with larger systems moving more rapidly in this direction compared to stand-alone hospitals.