Why a 3 percent rise in telehealth usage makes a big difference

Organizations are turning to telemedicine to extend their care reach, add new services, cut costs
By Brendan FitzGerald
07:35 AM

"The times they are a-changin." 

Now, telehealth was clearly not what Bob Dylan had in mind when penning that classic song but, even still, the adage certainly applies.

Indeed, what was once thought of as futuristic – conducting a virtual consult with a specialist in New York from your couch in California – is now a reality. Businesses across industries are utilizing technology to expand their reach and healthcare organizations are no exception.

HIMSS Analytics' recent Essentials Brief, the 2015 Telemedicine Study, found a 3 percent increase in the number of organizations using telemedicine solutions/services since 2014. While small, the increase indicates that organizations are turning to telemedicine to help expand their care reach, provide additional services and potentially lower the cost of care.

The telemedicine market is complex in that it covers multiple technologies, from consumer health applications to video consultations, serviced by a growing vendor pool. Amidst the growing field, healthcare organizations are beginning to understand how best to use these technologies via a number of different deployment models. 

The most popular deployment method utilizes the 'hub and spoke' model. Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents cited usage of this model, which allows for audio and visual capabilities between originating sites. Given this model's popularity, it should be no surprise that organizations' usage of two-way video and webcams also increased to nearly 70 percent from 58 percent a year ago.

Secondary to 'hub and spoke,'' is application focused patient engagement or patient portal which provides services via mobile or desktop access. Patient portal adoption for use in telemedicine rose 15 percent year-over-year, from 43 percent in 2014 to 58 percent in 2015. This increase is an example of healthcare organizations using this technology to meet consumers' need for convenient access and drive patient engagement. 

Despite indications of growing adoption, the number of organizations using multiple models to address their needs is minimal. But as the market matures and organizations understand how best to use telemedicine tools, multiple models or programs will be necessary.

Much like the health IT market in general, telemedicine is evolving and healthcare organizations are taking note. As Dylan sang: "…Admit that the waters around you have grown. You better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone. For the times they are a-changin'." 

Brendan FitzGerald is research director at Healthcare IT News sister unit HIMSS Analytics