Analyze: Essentials Brief: Outpatient Telehealth Technology
Telehealth involves the use of telecommunication technologies or specially designed medical devices for long-distance clinical healthcare, education and administration. With the ability to transfer medical information in real-time, clinicians can provide specialized care to those who wouldn’t have had access previously to healthcare services —suggesting that telehealth could be the next evolution in improved patient care, better health for populations and lower costs per capita.
However, there are still some hurdles to address before clinicians can deliver outpatient care through telehealth on a broader scale. Certain barriers, such as lack of reliable internet access for patients and providers in rural areas, initial cost of telehealth technology and concerns around liability continue to hinder more widespread adoption.
In the most recent HIMSS Analytics Essentials Brief, we dove into the current adoption rates and the demand for telehealth technology in the outpatient market.
Steady Adoption Rates, But Many Future Telehealth Investment Plans
In comparison to 2017, telehealth solution adoption rates remained relatively steady at about 45 percent in 2018, although the study indicated a broader usage of telehealth technology within practices. Clinicians rated the effectiveness and return on investment (ROI) of telehealth solution as slightly above average in 2018, as opposed to their initial rating in 2017. Notably, adoption levels were higher in hospital-owned facilities than in free-standing practices.
Regardless of their current telehealth investment status, many healthcare organizations indicated plans for future investments, with roughly three-fourths occurring in the next 12 months. About 19 percent of those making future investments are net-new purchases, and nearly 45 percent are those who've made telehealth investments previously.
Growing Consumer Demand for Telehealth Technology
In 2018, we saw an uptick in consumer demand for telehealth, acting in many cases as the catalyst for the increase in provider adoption rates. Thirty percent of provider respondents indicated their primary reason for investing in telehealth was consumer demand, up 17 percentage points from 2017. However, the leading driver for investment in telehealth solutions continues to be improving access to patient care, cited by roughly 61 percent of physician practices with telehealth solutions/services in place.
Patients are beginning to take on more traditional consumer roles in the healthcare industry, preferring easy access, convenience and transparency. Many practices are now using telehealth to meet these new expectations, extend their reach and ultimately acquire new patients. Given the flexibility of telehealth solutions, healthcare professionals and patients are likely to continue adapting to this growing consumer trend across the industry.
Increased Flexibility and Diversity in the Delivery of Patient Care
The increase in development and adoption of telehealth technology is reflective of the flexibility that the technology offers in providing access to care. Outpatient practices can now take different, more personalized approaches to providing telehealth services to their patients.
Specifically, the study indicated that practices are becoming more comfortable using a diverse set of telehealth solutions to deliver care. Two-way video/webcam solutions are still the most popular solution, but 2018 saw an increase in the use of mobile applications for virtual visits and remote patient monitoring via consumer devices. In response to the evolving role of patients in managing their own care, these consumer-focused solutions are starting to become more widely accepted by outpatient practices.
However, the future is still uncertain for solutions like these. Physicians indicated that they still need to work on streamlining telehealth technology into their daily workflow, citing issues with data integration into the EHR and the potential impact on reimbursement models.
Uncertainty Surrounding Revenue and Reimbursement Hinders Adoption Rates
The potential impact on revenue and reimbursement models continues to be a sticking point for providers. Many responded to the study saying that the leading barriers to investment are financial uncertainty and a lack of standardization surrounding reimbursement for these types of solutions and services. As new legislation is introduced and reimbursement for telehealth care becomes more standardized, these concerns will likely dissipate.
However, practices with current solutions in place and those with investment plans for the future do see telehealth technology as a way to potentially increase practice revenue. In the value-based care paradigm, practices now recognize the need for technology to reduce costs and inefficiencies.
Telehealth has the potential to transform the quality, access and cost of patient care around the world. Providers are now using a diverse set of solutions to provide care in ways never seen before, and the market sentiment surrounding this technology is generally positive.
However, there's still work to be done before telehealth becomes a standard option in outpatient care. Issues surrounding cost, internet access, reimbursement models and legislation have slowed adoption rates in many areas. As these issues are addressed and resolved, we wouldn't be surprised to see the outpatient telehealth market really take off.
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