Telemedicine Searches For Strategy, Adoption

Slow adoption of telemedicine reflects few reimbursement opportunities, lack of cohesiveness among key players, study finds.

Nicole Lewis

April 28, 2010

5 Min Read
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Wireless Telehealth Brings Medical Help To Those In Need

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If the adoption of telemedicine at hospitals and other medical facilities is to take flight, service providers, technology vendors, and healthcare payers and providers must collaborate to build a cohesive strategy that involves a mature reimbursement model.

These are the finding of a soon-to-be-released IDC report, the first in a series four, entitled: Describing the Telemedicine Landscape in the United States. By researching trends in telemedicine as well as interviewing 1,202 consumers, IDC found that while there is slow adoption of the technology, there are a few bright spots as consumers and companies figure out how telemedicine can help healthcare providers close the long distance gap by using audio, video, and other telecommunications and electronic information processing technologies.

Among the findings, the survey showed that only 4.6 percent of respondents actually said they used videoconferencing to receive medical care. Among those who said they had, 6.3 percent were 35 and younger while only 0.8 percent of those who said they have used videoconferencing were 65 and older.

"People who are 35 and younger are much more likely to have tried videoconferencing for medical care and as the technology becomes more pervasive there's going to be a generation that is much more comfortable getting their care delivered virtually," said Irene Berlinsky, the reports co-author and IDC's senior research analyst covering multiplay services.

The low rate of adoption for telemedicine that involves audio and video transmissions for doctor/patient or doctor to doctor consultations, speaks to the difficulties of finding a payment model that will encourage hospitals and technology companies like Dell Inc. to embrace the technology.

"So far the reimbursement model for healthcare telepresence isn't there yet. A physician can't see a patient across a telepresence environment and get reimbursed by most systems," said Jamie Coffin, Dell's vice president of healthcare and life sciences. "We are looking at it and we are doing a lot of things around thinking about different modes of delivering healthcare to patients, but I would say we are not probably driving very much into the telepresence space yet because we don't think the market is there yet," Coffin said.

"Adoption of telemedicine is strongly dependent on reimbursements so it's not price point per se. Where it's going to be really important for telemedicine to take off is if it starts being reimbursed," Berlinsky said.

However, the push to get health plans to pay for telemedicine services received another boost this month when Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed the "Telemedicine Bill" into law. The new law mandates that health plans and HMOs pay for telemedicine services. Virginia joined 11 other states including California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas that have adopted similar legislation.

The use of smartphones for medical care may hold another opportunity, the report indicates. Smartphone users are three times more likely than other mobile phone users to use the device for medical scheduling. In the survey, 9.7 percent said they were more likely to use their smartphones for reminders to schedule a medical appointment compared with non smartphone users only 3 percent of whom said they would use their mobile phone to do the same tasks.

As smartphone penetration grows there will be a corresponding growth in the number of people using smart phones for their healthcare needs, Berlinsky predicts. Another encouraging sign is that 44 percent of respondents who live in households with a member using a remote patient monitoring (RPM) device, said they would purchase a health device from their cable or telephone company as opposed to 17 percent of non RPM users who said they would buy a health device from their cable or telephone company.

As the report highlights areas of opportunity for telemedicine, Berlinsky said telecommunications companies, technology vendors, and healthcare payers and providers need to collaborate more effectively if the technology is to reach its full potential.

One recent sign that things are moving in the right direction came earlier this month when AT&T announced a $27 million contract with the University of California to provide managed network services in support of telehealth initiatives.

The University of California is involved in establishing the California Telehealth Network (CTN). The vision of CTN is to deliver new models of care utilizing technology to assist the health needs of patients in rural and urban areas of California.

"Telecommunications and cable providers need to leverage the control they have over their networks and implement a quality of service to their healthcare customers, vendors need to develop marketable solutions that prioritize simplicity for their customers and healthcare providers need to align incentives because it's very important that telemedicine gets reimbursed," Berlinsky said.

Undoubtedly Telemedicine technology is not widespread, and the small signs of hope are just that, but Berlinsky thinks the federal governments support behind telemedicine by including it in the stimulus package, along with the FCC's broadband expansion plan will go a far way to push the technology forward.

"It's a bit of an uphill climb, but if you talk to people in the industry they are much more excited about the prospect now than they were a couple of years ago," Berlinsky said.

For Further Reading:

Telehealth Links Doctors To Remote Patients In Need

Gallery: Wireless Telehealth Brings Medical Help To Those In Need

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