Telemedicine Adoption Grows, but Hurdles Remain

Issues stemming from reimbursement and limitations of EMR systems account for six of the top seven challenges identified by survey participants.

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Telemedicine continues to evolve from a specialty-centric offering to a mainstream service, according to a survey from enterprise telemedicine software specialist Reach Health.

The survey revealed that roughly two-thirds of respondents rank telemedicine as the top priority or one of the highest priorities for their health care organization--a 10 percent increase from the 2015 survey results.

While telemedicine is becoming increasingly common across service lines and care settings, its growth is impeded primarily by two factors, according to the report.

Issues stemming from reimbursement and limitations of EMR systems account for six of the top seven challenges identified by survey participants.

Reimbursement (government and private) is, by far, the primary obstacle to telemedicine program success, with four-fifths of respondents identifying it as a major challenge.

"You might typically suspect one of the top telemedicine objectives to relate to extending scarce specialty physician resources or providing a convenient means for specialists to treat patients, such as without driving to the hospital at 2:00 a.m.," Steve McGraw, CEO of Reach, told eWEEK. "However, the top three telemedicine program objectives all related to improving patient care, specifically--patient outcomes, patient convenience and patient engagement and satisfaction."

The survey also indicated that although telemedicine programs for different medical specialties vary widely in maturity and clinical application, all service lines studied share a high degree of activity in terms of planning and implementation.

"Physicians have many demands on their time and talents, so the last thing they need is an unwieldy or complicated telemedicine application. Physicians want an application that is elegant, simple and mobile without compromising clinical effectiveness," McGraw said. "Thus, telemedicine technology must be user-friendly. The more satisfied physicians are with a telemedicine application, the easier it is for the telemedicine program to expand."

McGraw said the first trend in the evolution of telemedicine is already well underway--telemedicine hardware is a commodity.

"High-quality AV capabilities are universally available and decreasing in cost," he explained. "As a result, telemedicine programs and platforms will become increasingly software-based, enabling flexible clinical workflow, built-in EMR integration, and usage data, which can be analyzed for telemedicine program improvement."

He also noted the survey shows that telemedicine is shifting away from being driven by individual medical specialties to being driven at an enterprise-level focus.

"As a result, hospitals are investing in comprehensive, scalable telemedicine platforms instead of solutions for individual specialties such as tele-psychiatry or tele-stroke," McGraw said.

The survey also examined program attributes and correlated them with success. As uncovered in the 2015 benchmark survey, the degree of focus of the telemedicine program manager was strongly correlated with success. Executive support revealed a significantly higher correlation with success than adequacy of funding.