5 Things to Know About the Telemedicine Market and Its Effect on Technology in Healthcare

Telemedicine has experienced sharp growth in recent years, and it is poised to shake up healthcare. Below are five things to know about the telemedicine market, and how it is affecting the industry as a whole.

1. The use of telemedicine is growing. In addition to the 52 percent of healthcare organizations that now offer some type of telemedicine service, a growing number of companies have entered the telemedicine market as well, providing on-demand, remote care for minor, acute medical issues. According to The Wall Street Journal, three of the largest telemedicine companies, Teledoc, MDLIVE and American Well, hosted between 40,000 and 50,000 remote physician consults in 2013, more than twice the number hosted in 2011.

2. Telemedicine companies are increasingly attractive to investors. Investment in health IT companies in general hit a record high this past quarter. Telemedicine represented a growing share of investors' interest, with telemedicine companies raising $61 million over the three months ended March 31. Notable examples include MDLIVE, which raised $24 million total in 2013, and Doctors on Demand, which received $3 million in funding from Google prior to its December launch, according to the Journal.

3. Consumers are driving the rise of telemedicine. The market for many health IT products, especially electronic health records, has mostly been spurred by government incentives like the meaningful use program. The growing telemedicine market, in turn, is being driven by consumers who increasingly want convenient, on-demand solutions in all aspects of their lives, and healthcare is no exception.

The consumer-driven telemedicine market has led to the emergence of these growing private companies that have found success delivering on-demand telemedicine services directly to patients. "It's quite simple: Empower consumers with patient-in-control solutions," John Sculley, former Apple CEO and vice chairman of MDLIVE, told the Journal.

4. As the demand for and use of telemedicine has grown, so have regulatory battles.
With few overarching federal guidelines on the use of telemedicine, both state legislators and medical boards have begun to craft laws and policies that would shape the practice of telemedicine. Many state legislatures have introduced bills to develop telemedicine standards for their states, but decisions — such as which physicians should be allowed to practice telemedicine and under what circumstances — have led to debate. For example, the Florida legislature recently ended its session without passing a much-contested telemedicine bill because lawmakers could not agree on whether out-of-state physicians should be allowed to treat Florida patients via telemedicine.

Medical organizations have also proposed their own policies regarding the use of telemedicine. The Federation of State Medical Boards recently released the organization's proposed telemedicine policy, which acknowledges the benefits of telemedicine but calls for limiting telemedicine to videoconferencing or store-and-forward technology, requiring physicians to be licensed in the state where the patient is located and giving state boards final say on which electronic medical formularies are safe. The policy contradicts the standards set in several states' proposed laws, such as Alaska and Iowa.   

5. Although studies have shown telemedicine to be safe and effective, concerns remain.
Recent medical literature and pilot programs around the country have mostly shown telemedicine to be a safe vehicle for patient care that has the added bonus of potentially increasing efficiency and reducing costs.

However, many stakeholders remain concerned about telemedicine's effects on patient safety in light of its recent expansion. Not being physically present with a patient, especially a first-time patient, could lead a physician to miss signs or symptoms that could potentially lead to poor outcomes, critics argue.

"Most physicians would never accept a phone call from a patient they haven't met and diagnose and prescribe medication for that patient. Yet that is a common practice for many 24/7 healthcare services" like telemedicine, Greg Billings, executive director of the nonprofit research group Robert J. Waters Center for Telehealth and e-Health Law, told the Journal.

More Articles on Telemedicine:

Study: Asynchronous e-Visits Reduce Encounter Time for Physicians
Alaska Legislature Passes Bill Allowing Over-the-Phone Telemedicine
4 Steps For Building a Sustainable Telehealth Program

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