Will Telehealth Stay a Top Health Tech Trend in 2016?

February 23, 2016

By: Teresa Iafolla Telemedicine has been a growing trend in healthcare, but will this ascension continue? Here are the future prospects of telemedicine.

Telemedicine has consistently been cited as a top healthcare trend over the past couple years. In their 2015 report, Transparency Market Research projected that the telemedicine market would grow to $36 billion by 2020. That’s based on a staggering compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.3 percent. 

Those numbers are even more relevant for Americans when we consider that the U.S. currently makes up 40 percent of the global telemedicine market.

There seems to be little question that the telemedicine industry will continue to expand over the next few years. The real question is whether it will actually deliver on these projections, overcoming its barriers and riding the major shifts in healthcare. Will telehealth continue to be a top health tech trend of 2016?

The answer from many different sources seems to be a resounding yes.

Key developments in 2015 have helped alleviate some of the major barriers to wider telemedicine expansion. Issues with reimbursement and lack of national standards for telemedicine, for instance, have been stumbling blocks in the past for telemedicine.

This past year brought major progress on that front. The Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHPCA) reports that there were over 200 telehealth-related bills proposed in the legislature in 2015. Many states passed telemedicine parity laws last year, requiring private payers to reimburse telemedicine visits the same way as comparable in-person visits. Medicare expanded their Chronic Care Management (CCM) program to incorporate telemedicine into the list of covered services, and added an additional six telemedicine billing codes.

These developments, combined with the fact large private payers are rolling out telehealth services to patients to cut costs, means telehealth reimbursement should be less of a barrier in 2016.

Patients are noticing these changes too.  Thanks to a few of the large consumer-directed telemedicine companies and on-demand telehealth visits offered by retail clinics and private payers, patients are quickly getting used to the idea of virtual care. A survey by Software Advice found 75 percent of patients were interested in trying a telemedicine visit in place of an in-person visit, especially if it meant avoiding a trip the the emergency room.

As more patients discover the convenience of telehealth and get used to this new mode of receiving care, demand will likely shift to independent medical practices. Patients may start expecting telemedicine as a basic service, and seeking out providers based on whether they offer this service or not. In fact, a survey by Cisco found 76 percent of patients prioritize access to healthcare over in-person interaction with their healthcare provider. Patients want more convenient care.

While some providers and patients may still wonder how effective care can be without physical exams, the recent explosion of mobile medical devices, wearables, and health apps have helped virtual visits become an effective mode of delivery for treating and monitoring many health conditions.

Physicians are increasingly opening up to telehealth as traditional barriers come down, and they see adoption happening at retail clinics and large health systems. A recent survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) and the Robert Graham Center for Anthem found almost 9 out of 10 family doctors were interested in using telehealth. Yet, in 2014, only 15 percent of respondents said they used telehealth, citing reimbursement, training, cost of equipment as common barriers to adoption.

The interest is there. Now that 2015 has brought progress toward breaking down those barriers, we’re likely to see a jump in adoption among providers in 2016.