Is Telehealth The Next Transformative Phenomena In Healthcare?

Posted on by Frank J. Rosello

A report from Frost & Sullivan finds that telehealth – whether it’s remote patient monitoring, mHealth or video telemedicine – is a confusing jumble, with many practical hurdles ahead. But it’s also one of the most exciting and potentially transformative phenomena in healthcare.

Frost & Sullivan’s study, “Analysis of the North American Telehealth Industry,” spotlights opportunities in telehealth, gauging market sizes and forecasting key trends, ranking the top sectors poised for growth.

Telehealth is an odd and varied beast. Essentially the deployment of advanced communication technologies to provide care and health services at a distance, the term nonetheless encompasses an array of services. “Some of these activities have been going on for 50 years, while some have emerged from nothing to major markets in the last five years,” the report points out.

Despite some confusion over the role it should play in healthcare – and some stumbling blocks to long term growth and sustainability, having to do with everything from technology issue to business model and reimbursement concerns – telehealth is well-suited to help address the “shortfalls present in each step of the current healthcare experience, whether it is getting to see the right specialist at the appropriate time, or making sure a patient properly manages their medications.”

Frost & Sullivan ranked the the top 20 healthcare market segments, based on criteria such as current revenue opportunity, potential for short-term growth (over the next five years), long-term growth (beyond 10 years), potential to improve healthcare by transforming care delivery and the stability of their business model.

The top five areas for telehealth growth:

  1. Home and disease management monitoring. F&S says the sector has a proven and evolving business model, with many established revenue sources; its proximity to patient “makes it a bridge for consumer-friendly products, such as tablets.”
  2. Remote doctor/specialist services. While still relatively new, the sector has “grown significantly.” Able to bypass certain payment issues that might hamstring other markets, it addresses a huge need “that through evolving video technology is now capable of being addressed remotely in a cost-effective way.
  3. Personal emergency response systems (PERS). This is an area that has seen an uptick in activity in the past year or so, and represents one of the “largest of current opportunities,” according to analysts, since it has “some of the only proven direct-to-consumer business models for healthcare services.”
  4. Video diagnostic consultation. Currently the most established video telemedicine market, this sector,as an extension of a healthcare provider helps address the need for access to care, irrespective of location. While it “has some reimbursement channels, as video can count as a face-to-face encounter,” analysts say it “still commonly relies on pilots or other temporary funding sources.”
  5. Remote cardiac services. This area is “fully reimbursed remote medical service” and is a “market with significant revenue.” While there’s a limited potential for evolution and transformation due to its well-established market presence, technology has nonetheless recently “allowed the introduction of new services at higher price points,” according to the F&S report.

Rounding out the other top areas for telehealth:

  • Patient Portals
  • Hosted Cloud Infrastructure
  • Professional HC Apps
  • Wellness Programs
  • Diabetes Management
  • Retail Telehealth
  • Fitness/Wellness Apps
  • Medication Management
  • Electronic Health Records (EHR)
  • Health Information Exchange (HIE)
  • Activity Monitoring
  • Distance Learning/Simulation
  • Teleimaging
  • Texting Information Services

“I would not describe telehealth solutions as creating something new for healthcare but more evolving and expanding its capabilities,” says Zachary Bujnoch, senior industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Telehealth solutions are already playing a significant role in healthcare, but “currently only in the areas that are the most immediate and obvious fits,” he adds. “In short we are at the proving phase of market acceptance where we are starting to iron out all the kinks of telehealth and now asking for proof of value,” says Bujnoch. “Over the next five years, as healthcare providers embrace more collocative technology and communication solutions, the no-brainier application cases for telehealth will grow in kind.”

While telehealth has a big future in healthcare, however, “its intensity will vary significantly.”

And there are plenty of challenges to achieving its potential – hurdles that will have to be overcome both by playing themselves out in the market and with help from targeted federal initiatives

“The government has played a key role with promoting growth in some aspects of telehealth,” such as an array of initiatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs, says Bujnoch. Of course, government can also be “a limiting factor, due to the slow nature of new guidance from entities such as the FDA and FCC.”

Likewise, market forces are also double-edged. They have paved the way for “a significant amount of new innovation from things like mobile apps, but also has been limited due to the need for sustainable business models,” he says.

“Due to this dual nature of both strong government and market forces, the U.S. has a unique global position for encouraging telehealth opportunities,” says Bujnoch. “Both will continue to play, with the government initiatives helping more for heavily healthcare professional focused opportunities, while the private market forces will play better to consumer/patient focused opportunities.”

Article written by Mike Mallord, Managing Editor of Healthcare IT News

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