The Benefits of Telemedicine for Patients and the Medical Industry

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As the demand for virtual healthcare continues to grow, so has the demand for telemedicine stats and facts. These stats support the decisions of physicians and other healthcare providers when it comes to providing telemedicine services and the continuing adoption of telemedicine state and federal laws. And, understanding the facts and statistics around telemedicine can help to clear up any worries or concerns that patients have when it comes to this new healthcare delivery method.

So, we’ve put together some facts and figures that will help to shed some additional light on telemedicine, its growth, benefits for the medical field and patients, and how it is able to save money for both healthcare organizations and patients.

Telemedicine Growth:

Currently, more than half of all hospitals in the U.S. are now running a telemedicine program. And, an estimated two hundred existing telemedicine networks in the United States are providing connectivity to over three thousand rural and suburban areas.

In the past three years, the number of states having passed telemedicine parity laws, and a requirement for private insurers to provide cover for telemedicine services that are comparable to an in-person visit, has approximately doubled. Twenty-nine states now have telemedicine laws for private insurance, and twenty-three states plus Colombia have full telemedicine parity laws.

Currently in the U.S., forty-eight state Medicaid agencies are offering some type of coverage for telemedicine services. And twenty-four states are offering some form of telemedicine coverage under state employee health plans.

It’s estimated that the number of patients making use of telemedicine services will increase rapidly – between 2013 and 2018, the number grew from less than 350,000 to seven million. In addition, the global telemedicine technology market in 2014 was predicted to grow at a rapid rate of over eighteen percent by 2020. In 2015, there were around 800,000 online consultations in the U.S. and this number has only grown over the past few years.

Surveys showed that over 80% of surveyed healthcare executives felt that telemedicine’s development is either very important or important in terms of their organizations. And one third of physicians surveyed reported adjusting their business models in order to increase flexibility when accommodating the different models of care brought about by the adoption of telemedicine. Surveys also found that virtual visits were a top service offered by physicians and other healthcare professionals, with just over half of respondents reporting providing this service.

When it comes to employment, more and more employers are beginning to offer telemedicine services – around twenty-two percent of employers with over one thousand employees are currently offering telemedicine services. In 2014, thirty-seven percent of employers reported planning to provide telemedicine services to their employees by the end of 2015, and this number has only grown since.

Across the U.S., the three states with the highest adoption rates for telemedicine are South Dakota, Arkansas and Alaska, and these technologies are now making up around one-fourth of the health IT market whilst continuing to grow. Since 2014, the health IT market – including telemedicine technologies – has enjoyed a compound annual growth rate of almost 5%.

In 2015, over two hundred telemedicine bills were introduced in state legislatures across the US, and all but eight of these introduced at least one telemedicine-related bill during 2015. In May 2016, Congress passed three bills with the potential to significantly impact telemedicine nationwide. In the same month, another twenty-one bills were pending in the Senate, and 25 in the House.

Between 2004 and 2013, the number of telemedicine visits provided to Medicare beneficiaries increased at a rate of almost 30% per year, with a total of one-hundred and seven thousand visits recorded in 2013. And in the five years prior to 2014, the number of eligible potential users for telemedicine services increased by at least ten times for telemedicine vendors.

Telemedicine isn’t new – in fact, the first telemedicine-type device, known as the teledactyl, came about in 1925 when it was featured in Science and Invention magazine. However, the invention never made it beyond the concept stage. It closely resembled the remote video consultation of today. And, the 1950’s saw some of the earliest technologies in telemedicine put to use. The first recorded use of telemedicine in the U.S. was when two Pennsylvania health centers, around twenty-four miles apart, used a telephone to transmit radiologic images.

How Patients Feel:

Telemedicine is popular with patients – around 75% of patients in the U.S. report that they would use telemedicine and telehealth services, and around eight in every ten patients reported in a survey that they would be open to trying non-traditional methods of care delivery, including telemedicine. Most of today’s patients report being comfortable with having their health records securely available to care providers in the cloud, and over 70% of patients say that they are happy to communicate with doctors and nurses using technology, rather than visiting them in person.

Only 16% of patients report that they would prefer to go to the emergency room for a minor ailment, whilst the rest would take advantage of telemedicine services. And, over 75% of patients are more concerned about access to healthcare than human interaction with healthcare providers.

Today, over 30% of patients are already using computers or smart devices to check their medical records or diagnostic information, and this is a number that’s expected to continue growing. And, over 60% of patients say that using telemedicine has had some kind of positive impact on their satisfaction with the medical care available to them.

Telemedicine in Action Today:

Hospital readmissions for a range of illnesses, including heart failure, decreased between 44-51% when telemedicine services were offered by a program for post cardiac arrest care implemented by the Veterans Health Administration. And, according a Geisinger Health plan study, patient readmissions were over 40% lower over thirty days and thirty-eight percent lower over ninety days, when compared with patients who were not enrolled in the telemedicine program.

A study of outcomes on eight thousand patients who used telemedicine services found that there was no difference in terms of satisfaction and level of care provided between both virtual appointments and in-person doctor’s office visits. And, over 20% of patients would do even more than agree, saying that when using telemedicine services, the quality of care was the same as or even better when compared with an in-person visit.

Around 20% of telemedicine service uses were to treat sinusitis, the most common diagnosis treated using telemedicine visits. The next common are cold, flus and pertussis, with an average of twelve percent of visits, and bladder and urinary tract infections come in at six percent. According to one survey, physicians resolved around sixty percent of telemedicine visits with a prescription.

In 2013, disabled patients with mental illnesses were the most likely of all Medicare users to use telemedicine services, with the vast majority of visits for the purpose of diagnosing and treating mental health conditions. And, patients who used a telemedicine system to self-report issues such as blood pressure and other health data were able to remotely see improvements and make efforts to make positive lifestyle changes.

The Benefits:

Telemedicine has many clear benefits – today, 50% of surveyed executives rank improving care quality as one of, if not the, top reasons for implementing telemedicine in their practice, and almost 20% of surveyed healthcare executives reported excitement about reaching new patients through telemedicine. Filling gaps in care was one of, if not the primary motivation for investing in telemedicine tools for over forty percent of respondents in one survey.

When asked about the top benefit of telemedicine in their opinion, almost 20% of health system respondents said that it was due to the ability to provide round-the-clock care to their patients. And, the next top rated benefit of telemedicine was reported as the ability to provide remote consultations to patients.

Today, almost seventy-five percent of all doctor’s appointments, urgent care, and visits to the emergency room are either unnecessary or could easily be handled safely and effectively through a video conversation or over the phone. And, patients are happier- one survey found that over twenty percent of patients reported the lack of need to travel to the doctors’ office as the top benefit of telemedicine. Another twenty percent said that, for them, the top benefit was the ability to access care from their homes. And, over half of patients surveyed said that telemedicine has been able to somewhat or significantly increase their involvement in their treatment decisions and process. Over 80% of the time, physicians are able to resolve patient issues using initial telemedicine.

In addition, telemedicine can significantly cut down waiting times – in 2014, a survey of fifteen physician practices in metropolitan areas across the US found that the average waiting time for a patient to see a doctor was over eighteen days.

Saving Costs:

Telemedicine has had many cost-saving benefits for both patients and healthcare practitioners. In fact, US employers could save up to a massive six billion dollars per year simply by providing telemedicine technologies to their employees. And, the Geisinger Health Plan study mentioned earlier found that successful implementation of telemedicine programs generated over 10% in cost savings per program during that study period.

According to the study, the estimated return on investment for a telemedicine program was around $3.30 in cost savings for every dollar spent on implementing the program. The CONNECT for Health Act is a bill that is estimated to generate massive savings of around $1.8bn for the Medicare program.

For patients, telemedicine can also save money – telemedicine visits generally cost a patient a direct convenience fee ranging from $35-$125 each visit, which may be on top of, or in place of, any reimbursement through third-party payers such as health insurance. And, patients could save an average of $126 per commercial telemedicine visit compared to the costs of visiting other healthcare settings, with an average telehealth visit of $50.

Rural Areas:

For patients in rural areas, telemedicine significantly improves access to healthcare. Around 20% of Americans are living in rural areas without easy access to primary care or specialist medical services – around forty specialists serve a rural population of one hundred thousand. And, only around one in every ten US physicians are practicing in rural areas in the United States.

In one survey, over forty percent of healthcare system respondents said that gaps in patient care due to community remoteness in rural areas were one of, if not the main driving reason behind their decision to adopt telemedicine. And, adoption numbers of telemedicine are significantly higher in hospital, and other healthcare settings in rural areas, when compared to urban areas and cities.

Other Benefits:

Telemedicine is not the only benefit that the internet and technology has had on the healthcare system, with both healthcare providers and patients able to benefit as a result. For example, physicians and other healthcare providers are now easily able to communicate with each other when it comes to patient care; healthcare providers in different cities, counties, states, or even countries can liaise with one another when it comes to patient care and therefore ensure that they are providing the best standard of care possible. In underprivileged and developing countries, telemedicine is making it easier for volunteer and disaster aid doctors to ensure that they are providing the best possible care to patients, often with limited resources.

And, telemedicine isn’t the only way that healthcare providers can benefit. For example, the option to study online has now made it easier than ever for healthcare professionals to not only improve their knowledge and skills, but also network with other professionals and boost their careers using options such as these online FNP programs.

Telemedicine, technology, and the internet are improving healthcare for everybody involved. It’s now significantly easier for healthcare professionals to improve their skills, communicate with one another to improve patient care, and provide a greater standard of care. For patients, these technologies have made it easier to gain access to a high standard of healthcare anywhere and at a lower cost.

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