AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Telehealth Market Expected to Reach $17 Billion by 2020

Growth within the telemedicine marketplace continues to reach a fever pitch. Fueled by the shortage of physicians, increasing aged population, rising healthcare costs and expanding health insurance coverage for virtual healthcare, the emerging telemedicine market is set to soar in the coming decade. While some experts attribute telemedicine’s popularity to the to rise in smartphone use and consistent demand for quality virtual services, many healthcare systems are trying to reduce both the number of hospital visits and the length of stay in hospitals.

A new report entitled, “The Global Telemedicine Market Outlook 2020, studied the complete telemedicine industry which includes hardware, software and services. The telemedicine technologies market is anticipated to grow 8.4% and surpass $30 billion by 2020. “The report is a detailed study on the geographical distribution of telemedicine with the market sizes of North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific and provides an insight into different telemedicine applications.” North America is the largest market globally, accounting for more than 40 percent of the global market size.

Telemedicine, and the broader and increasingly more favorable term telehealth, includes medical services which use electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical healthcare. The relationship between telemedicine and health IT is recognized as complementary by the reports researchers.

Another report from information and analytics firm HIS predicts video consultations will jump to nearly 27 million in the U.S. market, a doubling of virtual video consultations between primary health care providers and their patients, in the next five years. The IHS report projects a cumulative annual growth of nearly 25% a year to 5.4 million video consultations by 2020. Healthcare payers are recognizing telehealth as a way for patients to get high quality care from a physician and to avoid a more expensive trip to a hospital emergency room. “We’ve seen growth in reimbursement,” Roeen Roashan, medical technology analyst with IHS said in a recent interview. “Specialty consultations are projected to jump from 14.5 million to 21.5 million.”

As the industry reaches new heights, the pace of growth will continue to be moderated by tepid physician support, outdated reimbursement models, technology costs, and legal and governmental regulations regarding telehealth practices. The industry has made significant changes in delivery models for clinical and acute care in the last 5 years. Telemedicine and telehealth programs are certainly proving to be the future of healthcare.



Telemedicine, the Future Venue for Healthcare

While many believe that telemedicine first made its debut just a little more than a decade ago, the practice of telemedicine can be traced back to the early years of the space program. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) pioneered the remote use of physiological measurements of astronauts and telemetered the data back to earth from the spacecraft. These early efforts from the 1960’s enhanced the development of satellite technology which led to the development of telemedicine. The decades since have brought significant advances to the technology, lower costs of equipment and an expansion of the potential uses in the medical industry.

Advancements in the fidelity, mobility and affordability of technology is changing the landscape for healthcare delivery. As the digital gadgetry becomes smaller, more portable and easier to use patient/consumers are advancing their expectations of telemedicine as payers look to reduce the costs of routine medical care and shorten the length of hospitalization. There is a vast array of new technology being applied to healthcare that promises to give patients more responsibility and control over their health and fitness. Wearable technology and wellness devices enable users to continuously monitor their vital signs and track their progress towards their fitness goals.

Future wearable devises will focus on accuracy and data integration as well as visualization capabilities; virtual models that promote the patients understanding and significance of the all the wellness data generated by the wearable devise.

The newest digital health trend, nanotechnology, may have a significant impact on healthcare. Nanotechnology’s precision and accuracy can aid in designing new drugs to specifically match a patients needs or monitor the progress of cancerous tumors in a patient’s body. While still in its infancy, nanotechnology is expected to be a significant digital health trend in coming years. Artificial intelligence is another digital health trend that will help physicians track a patient’s health and identify danger signs before an onset of a heart attack or stroke. As the costs of genome sequencing continues to decline, integration of personal genetics and research will advance the practice of genomics in the next few years.

“Access, cost, and convenience are driving it (technology) forward, plus advancement in technological capabilities”, says John Jesser, vice president of engagement strategy at Anthem Blue Cross, an affiliate of the Indianapolis-based WellPoint. “Historically, telehealth meant expensive video conferencing equipment in a clinic at one location and expensive video conferencing in a hospital somewhere else. (The technology) now allows doctors to log in and log out easily at their convenience and it allows patients to seek care when they want it, from their iPhone or Android. That’s changed everything,”

As virtual health initiatives move forward, new and valuable trends and telehealth technology solutions will continue to emerge and be adopted as the traditional methods of delivering medical care are challenged and disrupted at medical facilities, physicians’ offices and hospitals. The venue of choice for patients seeking medical in the future will more likely be smartphones, laptops, and tablets. The preferred provider will have to be knowlegable and comfortable with this rapidly changing healthcare delivery landscape.



Elements Essential to Establishing a Successful Telemedicine Program

Several studies in recent years have indicated that the use of telecommunication technologies in the delivery of health care will rise dramatically as new technology is improved and its utilization perfected. Patients seeking healthcare through the use of fixed and mobile digital devices will reach 7 million by the year 2018. This predicted high demand for mHealth has existing providers scrambling to design an effective, high quality delivery model that meets the requirements of increasingly savvy consumers/patients. The projected increase in users of telemedicine services is also attracting a new wave of investor-supported entrepreneurs, eager to embark into the practice of virtual medical care. These new technologies make it possible for healthcare providers to monitor, measure, and interface with patients remotely while making it easier for patients to manage their own healthcare.

As healthcare companies and providers seek to implement telehealth solutions, it requires certain critical, essential elements necessary to the successful engagement of a connected-care-telemedicine practice:

Devices – The popularity and utilization of personal computing came about only after the deliberate evolution of devices that were simple and easy to use by inexperienced consumers. A telemedicine practice must use remote presence devices that are easy to use for the patient and promote a high level of confidence in the exchange of information with their physician.

Platform – Utilizing a platform that integrates telemedicine connections into a secure electronic medical record system will be essential to insuring quality and continuity of care. A software platform should be easily accessed by users and consistent with familiar digital formats and functions, but include cutting edge security measures in order to ensure the highest level of patient confidentiality.

Expert Practitioners – Telemedicine is not a new or different type of healthcare, but a different method of delivering the same quality of healthcare.  The physicians and care-givers must be equally skilled and proficient, not just in medicine, but also in technology.

Process Improvement – A successful telemedicine practice must establish key performance indicators that can be monitored and measured.  As the system is monitored and measured, telemedicine providers are able to make continual improvements to ensure the highest level of care.

The growth of telemedicine has become one of the most disruptive events in the delivery of healthcare in more than a century. Applying the technology to a well-established and confident system of care will come with certain challenges in its implementation. The impact will be derived, not by the technology or its devices, but rather from the healthcare professionals who incorporate these essential elements.



Rising Opportunities in Virtual Healthcare

While it may not be the .com bubble of the 90’s, telehealth and virtual healthcare initiatives are gaining popularity amidst investment communities across the globe. While some challenges still remain; individual state medical licensing reform, digital medical record keeping and some regional short-falls in technology infrastructure, a recent Wall Street Journal report on private equity firms investing in the health-care sector indicate increased investor interest in earlier stage opportunities. With the rising cost of healthcare, anticipated physician shortages and an increased demand for healthcare, virtual medical care is a way to solve the access and cost issues. Nirad Jain, a Bain partner and a co-author of Bain’s latest report on global health-care private equity, said “Health care is such an important part of the economy in the U.S. and globally, it impacts society in such a fundamental way that it is hard for a private equity firm of scale not to have some part of its portfolio in health care.” Private equity last year reached a three year high of $29.6 billion globally, nearly double the level recorded for 2013.

Telemedicine has been around for several decades but advances in digital infrastructure, software and the popularity of mobile devices by consumers is creating a tipping point for a budding virtual health industry. “Telemedicine is moving like lightning. We’re able to do so much more than before,” said Andrew Watson, Chief Medical Director of Telemedicine at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Researchers at Mercom Capital Group estimated a 300% increase in funding flowing toward established and startup virtual-visit firms in 2014, and StartUp Health, a New York-based accelerator, and Rock Health, a San Francisco-based accelerator and seed fund, have independently reported that funding for new digital health ventures in the United States doubled last year. Rock Health estimates that $4.1 billion of new capital was invested in digital health in 2014, up from less than $1 billion in 2011.

“As practitioners in the telemedicine space, we’ve seen many technology platforms and telehealth delivery models enter the marketplace,” comments Dr. James Kiely, Partner, AcuteCare Telemedicine LLC.  “More consumers are embracing the convenience and lower costs of virtual visits and readily seeking routine and minor healthcare services through their smart phones, laptops and pads instead of face-to-face encounters with their doctors. As a result, healthcare organizations are moving quickly to implement telehealth initiatives across specialties such as neurology, cardiology, psychiatry, and other specialty programs.”

Whether or not virtual medicine and telehealth initiatives become the Facebook and Twitter of this decade remains to be seen. As investment dollars continue to rise, the future of telemedicine looks promising.



Telehealth is Disrupting the Traditional Healthcare Delivery Model

Walgreens has announced that it is teaming up with MDLive to offer virtual healthcare visits through their pharmacy mobile app. Walgreens customers have been able to connect with pharmacist and Walgreens staff via the app for several years, but a new expanded telemedical service will soon be offered to Walgreens customers in their California and Michigan retail outlets. Customers, or patients, will be able to consult with physicians virtually about routine acute conditions. Walgreens’ management plans to expand the new service to their retail centers in other states.

Telemedicine has found considerable success and acceptance as a tool to connect patients located in rural areas with medical specialist in urban medical centers, bringing much needed neurological and other medical specialties to patients previously denied convenient access to advanced, specialized care. Time sensitive virtual treatment for stroke and other neurological ailments are now readily available to patients regardless of where they live, saving valuable time, improving patient outcomes and saving lives.

But the expansion of telecommunication technology to broader telehealth applications is just beginning to be introduced to consumers through retail outlets and the workplace and is likely to disrupt the normal delineation of services in the medical care industry.

Walgreens is being joined by competitors CVS and Target in an aggressive entry into virtual, in-store healthcare clinics through partnerships with a growing number of emerging or established healthcare providers. Kaiser Permanente, a leading clinical healthcare provider, is now experiencing nearly half of their patient encounters virtually, in their Northern California clinics, which has grown from 4.1 million visits in 2008 to approximately 10.5 million at the end of 2013. Permanente Medical Group CEO, Robert Pearl is predicting that Kaiser’s virtual clinic visits will exceed in-person encounters by 2016.

Typically consumers use retail clinics for services such as vaccines, strep throat tests and treatments for other common maladies but the new entrants into the retail telehealth market are predicting that patients will also use the new virtual clinics for pediatric care, well-woman care, family planning and chronic-illness management.

Investors in the expanded retail telehealth market are banking on consumer/patients to continue to respond positively to the convenience and cost savings offered by telemedicine in order to successfully navigate through the start-up to profitability curve. It has been predicted for nearly a decade that advances in telecommunication technology would lead to a vastly different and innovative medical care delivery model. It would appear that the predictions are well on the way to becoming reality.