How Telemedicine is Changing Healthcare: 6 Key Trends in Telehealth Services and How Health Systems Can Adapt

Telehealth services and telemedicine have become the fastest-growing health field in recent years, both in the U.S. and globally. From 2016 to 2017, private insurers in the U.S. reported a 53% growth rate in telehealth, compared to a 14% growth rate in urgent care and smaller growth rates in other service lines. In 2018, the number of telehealth services users was projected to hit 7 million, with more than 35 million individual visits. Within the next 5 to 10 years, those numbers are expected to double.

Increased use of telehealth services has a variety of benefits for both individuals and health systems. For patients, virtual visits make it more convenient to receive care, especially for those in rural areas. For health systems, telemedicine can improve population health; decrease d stress on emergency departments, primary care physicians and specialists; reduce healthcare costs; and increase efficiency.

The results of several large-scale studies about telemedicine that show significantly reduced costs as well as high levels of patient satisfaction and care have prompted increased competition and investment from major players such as Teledoc, Doctor on Demand, AmWell, and MDLIVE. With telehealth services poised to disrupt how patients receive care, health systems have two important ways to respond: develop their own telehealth services or partner with an existing telehealth services provider.

While developing telehealth services may require significant upfront investment, the return on that investment can be substantial. And the market is nowhere near saturated: According to Teladoc, approximately one-third of ambulatory care visits could potentially be handled through telehealth services. In the U.S. that would equal at least 400 million consultations. Other sources have put that number much higher.

So, what do health systems and hospitals need to know about telemedicine and how it is changing the healthcare landscape in order to develop their own tele programs? Here are some key takeaways:

1. Older Americans are an Untapped Market

While Americans aged 55+ are the least likely to use telehealth services, telemedicine is highly effective at improving long-term management of many conditions that accompany old age. A government-sponsored review concluded that 38% of doctor visits for this demographic, including 27% of emergency room visits, could have been conducted remotely. The key to tapping into this market is making older patients aware of the convenience and helping them set up and get comfortable with telemedicine.

2. Millennials are Cost-Conscious and Prioritize Convenience

Now the largest single demographic, millennials are playing a large role in shaping how care is delivered. They are highly conscious of their healthcare premiums and out-of-pocket costs and are less likely to visit a primary care physician for non-emergency treatment than other demographics. In fact, according to a 2015 survey by FAIR Health, just 43% of millennials surveyed choose primary care settings over telehealth services or urgent care. Highlighting the care-on-demand aspect of telemedicine, and its ability to reduce overall costs will help get more millennials on board with telehealth services.

3. Busy Parents See the Value of Telemedicine

There’s nothing worse than having a sick child in the middle of the night and trying to decide if you should take them to the emergency room. With 24/7 telemedicine, parents can get a consultation without ever leaving home and children can get treated more quickly. This results in fewer sick kids in emergency rooms and doctors’ offices, which reduces the risk of spreading common illnesses. Using telemedicine can also significantly reduce costs, particularly through more efficient allocation of emergency department resources.

4. Specialty Services Have Great Growth Potential

Primary care and behavioral health have been the earliest adopters of telemedicine, but there are many opportunities to use telemedicine in other specialties, including neurology, radiology, dermatology, and chronic disease management. Even service lines such as physical therapy and stroke treatment are exploring the possibilities created by this technology. This has huge potential benefits for rural patients as well as for smaller hospitals that can more easily share resources with larger health systems.

5. Telehealth Services Enhance the Continuum of Care

One of the major advantages that health systems have in running their own telehealth services programs is that they are better equipped to provide a seamless continuum of care to their patients. Larger telehealth services companies may be known more broadly, but health systems are well known in the communities they serve. Having a branded telehealth service to augment traditional services helps create a seamless continuum, which strengthens brand identity, improves patient satisfaction, and helps deliver a higher level of care.

6. There are Still Numerous Barriers to Adopting Telemedicine and Telehealth Services

Adopting telehealth services and telemedicine is largely a matter of education and helping people get comfortable with the technology. And that goes for providers as well as patients. The telehealth services provider AmWell predicts more than 60% of physicians will offer telemedicine consultations by 2022, but that still leaves the another 40% that may need to be convinced of the benefits of telehealth services. According to a survey of physicians, IT and telehealth administrators, and hospital C-suite leaders, some of the top barriers to expanding telehealth services include uncertainties about reimbursement, questions about the clinical appropriateness, and lack of support from leadership.

Developing and Marketing Telemedicine Services for Your Health System

If your health system wants to develop your telehealth services program or encourage more patients and physicians to use your telemedicine or telemonitoring services, Lightstream has a proven track record of working with health systems across the country to do just that. Start a conversation and learn how we can help.