Telehealth development grew immensely in the past year. With so many new potential markets, experts have predicted several factors that will help dictate the future of telemedicine. These will assist lawmakers, businesses, medical providers, and patients in making healthcare decisions.
1. Movement away from reimbursement models
The increased growth of managed care and Accountable Care Organizations has slowly changed telehealth payment methods. Managed care insurance programs now cover 25% of all Americans (73 million people), and many of these key healthcare decisions that are shifting away from reimbursement models are being made at the local and regional levels.
2. Telemedicine as a standard of care
Although most people don’t realize it, digitally viewing medical images (which has been done for 40 years) is a form of telemedicine. Outsourcing radiology- also known as teleradiology – is also an everyday task for hospitals. As such, delivering 24/7 healthcare online is becoming the new standard of care, and many new regulations have been implemented to simplify the process.
3. Emergence of remote specialist care
If hospitals can outsource their radiology services, they can also outsource neurology, psychiatry and other specialty services. From dermatology to pediatrics, many telehealth companies provide these services at an affordable cost, which future projections seem to favor due to the shortage of physicians. Mergers and expansions of these enterprises will continue as the telehealth market grows.
4. Rise of virtual medical centers
Photo: Mercy Health
Hospitals across the country have opened smaller medical centers that serve patients in outlying areas, and even in other states. These centers house different specialists who can provide remote care to patients unable to seek in-person medical attention. Mercy Hospital in Missouri is an example of how a virtual care center can be beneficial to the surrounding community. This facility houses medical professionals who connect with patients at home, in hospitals, and in Emergency Rooms. Mercy Hospital estimates that their facility will conduct more than 3 million telehealth visits in the next 5 years
5. Programs vs networks
Many existing telemedicine programs involve a large central hospital or medical center providing services to smaller, connected sites. However, network models are also becoming widely used. This is based on paid memberships that connect multiple centers. An example of this is the Arizona Telemedicine Program, which was developed in 1995 to serve patients in rural communities, as well as the Arizona prison systems.
Wireless technologies like Mobile Health (mHealth) have completely changed healthcare delivery. For example, the prevalence of smart phones has helped popularize mHealth applications, enabling patients to monitor their conditions in real-time from their phone. While some payment issues have been identified, these services have proven helpful and will continue to redefine how patients seek medical attention.
International telemedicine has also proved beneficial for patients in different countries. Although issues with license regulations and payment methods exist, many global investments have already provided the backbone to build these expansive networks.
These predictions for the future will undeniably pave the way for further advances in telehealth. As awareness has grown and healthcare in the United States continues to transform, telehealth is poised to play a large role in building a stronger healthcare system.