Telemedicine is in the process of revolutionizing the way that health care is delivered by altering the patient care model in ways that promote greater efficiencies and access to care. While the emergence of this treatment modality has certainly not been without challenges, we are now at a point where it is an established and acceptable care delivery system. Many institutions have a program in place and physicians are typically well aware of this method of treatment. In terms of patients though, it would appear that thus far, telehealth has mostly served small and select patient populations- typically rural. This leaves much room for growth within the industry as a whole, and especially for certain higher-demand specialties. This may lead many of those in the industry wondering what lies in the future for telemedicine.
Essentially, there is room for huge growth and that is exactly what most industry leaders expect. Individuals are becoming much more comfortable using their electronic gadgets for anything from banking, shopping, entertainment and even to track fitness steps and goals. The logical next step is to allow access to their healthcare needs through digital technology. As technological capabilities continue to grow at dizzying rates and telehealth programs become more widespread, this will not be a tough sell for most patients, another strong indicator that telehealth has the potential to experience a huge growth boom over the coming decades.
There is much data that further backs the idea that the industry is going to experience rapid growth-especially in the next 5 years or so. Video-based telemedicine adoption has grown from 7% to 22% of telemedicine consults between 2015 and 2016. This is also the platform with the highest satisfaction rate. As video services continue to become a more standard communication method, and applications that ensure these digital devices meet HIPAA compliance become easier to implement, it will become a standard patient care mode.
Additionally, the age range that most frequently uses telemedicine is between 25-34 years, while those over 55 are the least (excluding telephone communication). This will naturally lead to a growth in the use of telemedicine as the middle-aged population becomes older and requires more medical treatment. Those that are currently younger than 25 are digital natives-they will not only accept telemedicine as a treatment option, but will likely expect or demand it.
These two factors indicate strong growth is expected. However, another factor almost guarantees it. This is the financial state of the healthcare system in the country. It is incredibly costly to treat almost any illness currently and the bottom line is that telehealth technology allows for more efficient patient care. These efficiencies, however small they may be, will continue to be vital to the success of any medical treatment facility moving forward.
There have been several studies that have been completed that uphold the idea that telehealth will continue to grow, and will grow rapidly in the next few years. One of the specialties that will be most impacted is tele-mental health. During the 2014 American Telemedicine Association’s Annual Meeting conducted a survey to pinpoint which specialties will likely have the highest impact in the coming few years. Tele-mental health was ranked as 4th highest.
With all of this data, as well as predictable demographic and technological innovation patterns, it is extremely likely that telehealth, and tele-mental health will be growing exponentially in the next several years. Providers who adopt this philosophy and make the move toward treating patients within this healthcare framework will have an advantage over those who show reluctance.