For the past couple years, we’ve heard forecasts of an imminent telemedicine takeover — how new, accessible telehealth technology will transform the healthcare industry. Some critics have called it all hype and dismissed telemedicine as a mere fad.
But the truth is, telemedicine has never been a fad. It’s a healthcare technology that’s been slowly advancing for decades, since the early research projects by NASA. And now, it’s hit prime-time.
Common adoption of telehealth is no longer mere prediction; it’s becoming a reality. A quick glance at the numbers on the growth of telemedicine demonstrates that telehealth will be an expected service for health systems in the coming years.
With the industry-wide push for change in regulations to the commonplace use of video-chat apps, telehealth now has a paved path to widespread adoption.
1) There will be at least 7 million U.S. telemedicine patients in 2018.
According to an HIS Technology report, there will be a huge uptick in telemedicine patients as doctors adopt telehealth platforms and start to offer virtual care. In 2013, the estimate of telehealth patients was less than 350,000. That’s a 19,000% increase over only five short years.
2) By 2015, 29 States already required health insurance coverage for telemedicine.
It’s true that the telemedicine reimbursement landscape is a shifting one. But the movement is towards broader coverage thanks to advocacy by health systems, organizations like the American telemedicine association, and leaders who see the long-term cost-saving benefits of telemedicine.
In 2015, over half of U.S. states mandated telemedicine reimbursement from private health insurance coverage. And another 26 telehealth bills were awaiting decision in congress.
Beyond these numbers, health insurance companies have been testing out telemedicine programs of their own accord, finding that they could help save on costs.
3) 89% of healthcare leaders expect telehealth to transform U.S. healthcare in the coming decade.
And 90% of those same executives are in the process of developing or implementing a telehealth program, according to a survey by Foley & Lardner, LLP.
That’s an incredible amount of healthcare leaders who not only believe in the powerful benefits of telemedicine, but are actively invested in building virtual care programs at this very minute. A current healthcare system without a telehealth strategy or plans to implement a virtual care program will quickly fall behind in the next few years.
4) 74% of surveyed patients would use telemedicine services.
While the idea of video-chatting a doctor online might have seemed sci-fi a decade ago, today’s patients are very open to the idea.
Things like internet access, smartphones, and Skype have shown patients that it’s possible, even simple, to connect with others online. And while this still might be a novel experience for some patients, many are keenly motivated to avoid a long wait in the emergency room or a trek back to the hospital for a follow-up appointment.
A Software Advice survey also found that only 16% of patients would prefer to go to the emergency room for a minor medical problem if they could use telemedicine services instead.
5) 37% of employers expected to offer a telemedicine benefit by 2015
In the age of the Affordable Care Acts and rising health insurance costs, employers have turned to telemedicine as a way to balance the budget. According to a Towers Watson survey, 37% of employer respondents in 2014 said they expected to offer telemedicine services to employees next year.
The push for telemedicine is coming from many different players within the healthcare industry, from employers to healthcare executives to insurance companies. While there will no doubt be some challenges to overcome and time needed to launch truly successful telemedicine care programs, it’s clear that telemedicine will be ubiquitous in just the next few years.