Survey Results: Are Projections for Telehealth Fact or Fiction?

The telehealth market is expected to experience a tenfold growth spike by 2018, burgeoning to $4.5 billion. We saw some significant signs of this growth recently, as reported by Forbes contributor Neil Versel. For those of us in healthcare, this projection is no surprise. Telehealth devices and services are a huge boost to organizations shifting from a fee-for-service model to value-based care. They also help enable healthcare providers to expand their geographic reach by delivering, caring for and monitoring patients who might not otherwise make the trek to see them.

Considering Americans make 1.2 billion visits to physician offices, hospital outpatient facilities and emergency departments every year, you’d think busy consumers would eagerly embrace telehealth and the convenient access to care it provides. Add the ubiquity of mobile devices (58 percent of American adults have a smartphone  and 42 percent own a tablet), it seems consumers would be hopping on the telehealth train at a rapid rate.

But they’re not – at least not yet.

See the infographic “Is the average patient ready for telehealth?”

iTriage provides simplified healthcare information, connection and convenience to people, in part via a mobile application that’s been downloaded more than 12 million times. With such a large community of health-engaged consumers, we have the opportunity to gain some pretty interesting insights into healthcare trends. With the projected growth in telehealth, we wanted to get some insights from our loyal users on the market, and here’s some of what we found:

#HITsm (1)

  • 85 percent of the 2,681 respondents told us they’ve never heard of or used telehealth services
  • 51 percent of respondents stated when it comes to a telehealth doctor’s visit, they have no preference if they have seen the provider in person before or not
  • Only a quarter said telehealth services are an important factor when choosing a doctor
  • Similarly, only 27 percent said it’s important for their insurance plan to offer telehealth services

Do these results indicate that consumers are ready for telehealth? Not exactly.

Many factors may have led to these findings, but looking at the data a little more closely, we found that people who use video chat services like Skype, FaceTime and Google Hangouts to communicate in other areas of their lives are more inclined to use video chat for health appointments versus face-to-face visits. These people also showed a higher awareness of telehealth, as well as preference for text messaging and emailing with their healthcare providers, than people who didn’t.

Additionally, 62 percent of women – the typical household chief medical officer – said they’d most prefer telehealth services for urgent care situations like ear infections and sore throats. This makes sense, since telehealth gives them a more convenient and less costly option in a stressful time of need. And about half of all respondents said they’d like to be notified if iTriage began offering telehealth services.

These findings indicate that telehealth will follow the same adoption curve we all have witnessed in the banking industry: People already familiar with convenient and efficient technologies elsewhere in their lives were the first to embrace mobile banking apps, e-payments and paperless check deposits. As more people learned of their benefits, the masses followed – in fact, mobile banking users are expected to represent 32 percent of the global banking population by 2019. Banking consumerism also sped adoption among financial institutions, and now, almost every bank offers apps for at least one smartphone operating system.

Similarly, the number of patients using telehealth is projected to reach 7 million in 2018. I’ve used telehealth services as both a clinician and a patient and it’s virtually impossible to imagine we won’t reach, or even surpass, the 7 million figure given where the delivery system is headed. The maturity of value-based models of care will overcome challenges around reimbursement and payment.

And like we saw in banking, healthcare consumerism will help drive adoption of telehealth among healthcare providers. Consumers will seek out lower-cost options for high-quality care, especially as insurance plans transition to high-deductible plans requiring patients to pay higher out-of-pocket costs. Seventy-six percent of our survey respondents said they would pay $10 or less for connecting with their provider using telehealth. Health systems thinking about total cost of care will be well positioned to engage these people in a cheaper and more convenient telehealth services. With about 350,000 telehealth users today, we advocates have our work cut out for us, but it will happen.

What are your thoughts about what telehealth could do for our industry? Post your comments below and reach me on Twitter @kriddleberger.

Kevin Riddleberger

Kevin Riddleberger, MBA, MS, PA-C, is senior director of clinical solutions at iTriage, a company whose mission is to empower consumers to take control of their health by providing actionable health information through smart technology. Kevin oversees the company’s strategy for further enhancing its platform for providers, payers and consumers. Prior to iTriage, Kevin was a practicing physician assistant for 10 years, specifically in orthopedic surgery. Kevin currently volunteers as an advisor to the Colorado healthcare startup community, providing both clinical and corporate expertise. Kevin earned his MBA with a concentration in healthcare administration from the University of Colorado at Denver, a master of science degree from the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, and his undergraduate degree from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.

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