Telemedicine is the practice of using medical devices and technology to remotely monitor and in some cases treat patients. A number of studies have predicted growth in excess of 50% over the next 5 years for this efficient practice still in its virtual infancy. The advent of electronic health records coupled with new efficiencies mandated by the ACA have created enormous momentum for telemedicine. Also aiding the growth is faster internet speeds and advanced medical software. Routine medical issues can now be performed for multiple patients at once, allowing doctors, therapists, and other medical professionals to spend more time on complex treatments and critical care measures. Telemedicine is also improving access to rural and isolated communities, who are now able to achieve functionality with the technology required. As Medicare and Medicaid move away from reimbursing for consultations, telemedicine can help medical professionals improve their bottom line by increasing the number of patients that can be brought into the fold.
One factor that has hindered the growth of telemedicine is the lack of long term studies on its effectiveness. Although recent feedback has been positive, the relative newness of the practice has limited the ability to measure its viability in certain areas. With Medicare and Medicaid moving to payment models based on outcomes rather than volume, evidence-based studies will go a long way in determining just how big the industry can grow. Certainly, in many cases there is a danger in taking a measure of personal connection out of the patient relationship. It will be up to medical associations, state organizations, and industry officials to continue the vital work of regulating the industry and acknowledging its limitations. Right now, a majority of insurers still limit or refuse to reimburse for telemedicine and Medicare/Medicaid does not reimburse in many cases.
With an aging population looking to stay in their homes longer and in many instances lacking mobility to attend multiple medical appointments, telemedicine has enormous potential to be part of the solution. Teletherapy has been rapidly growing within the school setting, with speech language pathologists and audiologists in particular. Physical and Occupational Therapists are finding new avenues to utilize teletherapy, although the core components of practice still require in-person treatment. It’s clear that telemedicine is having its coming out party. Just how big that party gets remains to be seen. Until next time…