A new survey shows broad acceptance of telemedicine services among health care executives and providers compared to just three years ago as 76 percent of healthcare professionals said their organizations currently offer or plan to offer telemedicine services.
In addition, a full 68 percent of those who offer telemedicine have already pushed past the implementation phase; 53 percent said they were in the growth or expansion phase and another 15 percent were in the mature or optimization phases, the survey found. Only 14 percent described their programs as under development.
These findings are based on a survey conducted by law firm Foley & Lardner LLP. More than 100 respondents from hospitals, specialty clinics, ancillary services and related organizations completed the survey, and nearly half of respondents hold C-suite or senior-level titles.
By contrast, Foley’s 2014 survey found that 87 percent of respondents did not expect most of their patients to be using telemedicine services by 2017. In 2014, no respondents said that their telemedicine programs were in the growth or expansion phase. What’s more, in the 2014 survey, 34 percent of respondents said their programs were in the early stages, compared with only 14 percent in the 2017 survey. In addition, the portion of providers in a pilot phase dropped to 10 percent from 16 percent in 2014.
Foley’s 2017 Telemedicine and Digital Health Survey reflects a surging demand for telemedicine-based offerings among providers and patients, and a broader acceptance of the technology by other major players in the health care industry. In fact, according to the survey, organizations are moving aggressively to implement telemedicine-based offerings for high-demand services like online specialty/second opinions and mental health. Respondents also expressed high interest in using telemedicine services for remote patient monitoring and urgent care or after-hours care
“The pendulum has swung to really embrace telemedicine, which wasn’t close to being adopted and implemented on this scale when the respondents were first surveyed in 2014,” Nathaniel M. Lacktman, chair of the firm’s Telemedicine Industry Team and co-chair of the firm’s Digital Health Work Group, said in a statement. “Health care providers, entrepreneurs, and patients alike have realized the potential to improve the quality of care in a more convenient, cost-effective manner which, in turn, has put pressure on the payer community to evolve their reimbursement strategies.”
Nearly three-quarters of providers (73 percent) said they were satisfied with their organizations’ telemedicine platforms. More than 60 percent said improved patient access and scheduling flexibility were key factors in delivering that satisfaction, with program software and compensation rates also scoring high marks. And, a third of respondents said 50 percent or more of patients continued to use telemedicine after an initial visit, demonstrating growing patient satisfaction with the service.
Looking at financial returns, while only 46 percent of organizations track return on investment, of those that do track, 60 percent reported savings of 10 percent or more. Twenty-nine percent of organizations reported cost savings of 20 percent or more from the use of telemedicine services.
More than 80 percent of respondents said telemedicine was spurring expansion of their digital health services, with mobile health applications, remote patient monitoring and personal health records also popular. Organizations reported strong interest in additional digital solutions for monitoring patient compliance.
The survey also found that a next wave of opportunity for providers may lie in using telemedicine services to enter lucrative foreign markets. While just 22 percent currently offer international telemedicine services, 32 percent said they are interested in doing so. And, of that group, more than 80 percent plan to roll out international telemedicine programs within three years. Yet, a consequence of operating in foreign jurisdictions in this expedited fashion is becoming entangled in the various local laws and regulations that govern health care technology around the world, the report authors note.
There continue to be challenges with adopting and implementing telemedicine programs. Recording patient encounters, interstate licensing, prescribing drugs, and Medicare coverage are among the most pressing legal and regulatory issues faced by health care organizations and legislators.
And, reimbursement remains a major challenge. More than half of respondents (59 percent) identified third-party reimbursement for telemedicine services as a significant challenge to implementation. While three-quarters reported that all or some of their telemedicine services were reimbursed, a third said rates were lower than identical in-person services.