Telemedicine is shaking up the American health care system for consumers and providers alike. Although it has been around in small-scales for decades, advancements in telecommunication, AR/VR, IoT, and more have enabled a more sophisticated system that increases cost efficiency, reaches traditionally under-served patients, improves the quality of healthcare services, and brings a streamlined platform to overhaul historically hard-to-manage practices.
Perhaps the most valuable benefit telemedicine brings to the healthcare industry is the transition towards bringing the doctor to the patient more often, rather than the patient to the doctor. Most of the commercial success and technology investment has been in this field of direct-to-consumer services.
A peer-reviewed study published by Telemedicine and e-Health Journal found that this technology’s services from Nemours Children’s Health System helped not only reduce urgent care visits, but also saved millions in costs in the process.
According to the analysis, without telemedicine service, 27.9 percent of patients would have visited an emergency doctor, resulting in savings of over $113 million to the Florida healthcare system.
Telemedicine is slowly becoming a quick-care physician replacement for a substantial majority of the public. According to the National Rural Health Association, “The patient-to-primary care physician ratio in rural areas is only 39.8 physicians per 100,000 people, compared to 53.3 physicians per 100,000 in urban areas.” This plays a significant impact on the healthcare of a population.
Another study, this one conducted by RAND Health, found that “…12 percent of direct-to-consumer telehealth visits replaced visits to other providers, and 88 percent represented new utilization…direct-to-consumer telehealth may increase access by making care more convenient for certain patients.”
The driving force behind this trend is the savings, increased revenue, and ROI for investors that the commercialization of telemedicine brings for every facet of the healthcare industry. For patients, telemedicine inevitably reduces unnecessary emergency room visits and alleviates the financial burdens of transportation expenses for standard check-ups; however, savings are realized in several key areas for hospitals and physicians as well. Things like remote patient analysis, electronic data storage, and monitoring services help significantly reduce service costs, saving money for patients, hospitals, and insurance companies.
An increased focus on telemedicine can also open new opportunities to boost revenue for doctors by enabling more flexible work-from-home schedules, attracting new patients, reducing the number of no-show appointments, and more.
The trend has also proven to be a lucrative venture for investors in healthcare as well. The American Hospital Association conducted a report on telemedicine that highlighted a program from Geisinger Health Plan that, once implemented, showed an 11 percent cost savings and more than three times the return on investment for investors.
There are still plenty of kinks to be worked out with telemedicine. With complex insurance and reimbursement plans, an overhaul in new training and equipment for facilities nationwide, and fewer in-person consultations—room for improvement will remain on the horizon.
That being said, the $21.6 billion global telemedicine industry, one that is expected to grow 18 percent annually between 2017-2026, will continue to dominate modern healthcare discussions. The pace of growth has progressed exponentially over the years with the industry showing no signs of slowing down.
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