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Survey: Majority of Healthcare Professionals Believe Telemedicine Delivers Similar Outcomes to In-Person Care

March 24, 2016
by Heather Landi
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A growing number of healthcare professionals regard telemedicine as a high priority and critical technology initiative for their organizations and believe it can deliver similar outcomes to in-person care, according to a survey from Aeris.

However, there continue to be significant barriers to successful telemedicine adoption, including the cost of devices and technology as well as licensing and reimbursement.

In the survey, which polled more than 150 healthcare professionals about the growth and adoption of telemedicine, 41 percent of respondents regarded telemedicine as “mission critical” to their organizations, while 35 percent cited it as important, and 15 percent cited it as not immediately important, but a fast-growing investment area.

The survey found that 32 percent of respondents had already deployed a telemedicine solution for their healthcare organization, while 17 percent cited they were in the process of deploying.

And, among respondents, 22 percent were in the process of creating a telemedicine solution and another 22 percent said they were considering investments in telemedicine solutions but had not yet initiated telemedicine projects.

The survey cites the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) estimation that the average hospital stay in the U.S. costs $9,700 and that the majority of these costs are overhead (58 percent) and are incurred within the first three days of a patient’s visit. Telemedicine could greatly reduce the cost of healthcare as eliminating the need for hospital stays can reduce those overhead costs, the survey report stated.

With regard to the perception of telemedicine technology, 84 percent of respondents believe that the technology industry has evolved well enough to produce telemedicine monitoring devices capable of delivering similar outcomes for patients treated at a hospital, clinic or a doctor’s office. Only 13 percent of healthcare professionals surveyed suggested that the technology still has a way to go before achieving these goals.

There continue to be barriers to telemedicine adoption and the lack of licensing and reimbursement is frequently considered the largest barrier and, indeed, 50 percent of respondents cited this as a challenge. In addition, 25 percent also believe the lack of FDA regulations hampers telemedicine adoption.

“A lack of federal standards and interoperability among diverse health systems disrupts the continuity required to share patient information across multiple facilities and regions. Each state adopts its own healthcare standards, but without federal guidelines, such laws can restrict the growth of telemedicine. Reimbursement models for patient encounters are poorly crafted, designated typically as rural Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs),” the report authors wrote.

About a third of respondents cited the cost of devices and technology as a critical challenge to successful adoption of telemedicine initiatives.

On the patient side, technology complexity for patients was cited as a barrier by 29 percent of survey respondents and 24 percent cited patient discomfort or distrust in communicating via technology as a challenge facing telemedicine adoption.

“Patient acceptance of technology as a tool in medicine is another major consideration for successful telemedicine projects. Lower literacy rates in remote geographic regions and diversity in the maturity levels of patients may limit the application of complex telemedicine devices. Patients will need to learn and respond rapidly to adverse conditions or warnings common with using medical devices and be willing to ask for technical support. Elderly and technology deprived patients may be wary of using high-tech devices for transmitting health information,” the survey report authors wrote.

Respondents also cited information security for patient information, the proliferation of vendors and market fragmentation, reliability concerns, lack of education and inadequate revenue generation models as notable barriers. The survey authors also point out that cultural and social mindsets could be the greatest barriers to telemedicine adoption.

When examining the drivers behind telemedicine proliferation, 63 percent cited the financial pressures on healthcare organizations as a key driver as well as cost savings for employers (32 percent). Respondents also pointed to the need for more primary care physicians as there is an overall physician shortage as another driver (32 percent). Respondents also cited telemedicine adoption by Medicare as a significant driver. “As the program approves more telemedicine procedures, acceptance of these procedures will spread widely, but adoption is slow,” the survey report authors wrote.

Healthcare professionals see great potential for telemedicine among senior care as the population of seniors and those who are home-bound increasingly grows and the need for healthcare will grow as well. Forth-three percent of respondents cited this healthcare discipline as the highest growth sector for telemedicine technology, and 25 percent of respondents called out chronic disease management and mental healthcare as part of the “Other” disciplines where they see the potential for high growth in telemedicine use. When asked in which disciplines telemedicine will grow quickest, 17 percent cited pharmaceuticals, 5 percent said radiology, 3 percent said pathology and 6 percent said dermatology.

Not surprisingly, two-thirds of healthcare professionals surveyed view managing chronic illness as one of the most promising applications for telehealth programs, followed by wellness checks (15 percent) and diagnosis (7 percent).

Despite the challenges of telemedicine adoption, healthcare leaders believe there are significant value propositions with the use of telemedicine, namely, time savings, cost benefits and accessibility of quality healthcare. Specifically, 59 percent of respondents ranked providing care for more patients with fewer resource requirements as the greatest benefit to adoption telemedicine. In addition, 21 percent ranked serving patients in remote locations via telemedicine as the biggest advantage and 8 percent cited being able to spend more time with each patient as a key benefit.

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