Many healthcare experts are predicting there will be a massive boom in telehealth by the end of the decade.
The most recent prediction comes from Ronald S. Weinstein, M.D., professor of pathology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program.
In an interview with the Association of American Medical Colleges, Weinstien said, “Virtualization of health care is the future of medicine. Many hospital and private practice services will be outsourced by telemedicine. I think that is on the close horizon. We’re estimating that 50 percent of all medical transactions will be done electronically by 2020.”
In 2013, nearly 900,000 American households used video conferencing technology to facilitate a consultation with a healthcare professional, representing 28% of the households with a broadband connection. There are a number of factors driving the telemedicine boom, including the physician shortage and the Affordable Care Act’s focus on reducing healthcare costs.
Telemedicine offers an affordable solution for patients that live in rural or geographically isolated areas by eliminating their need to travel to see a provider. The technology also allows medical professionals to see more patients, thus lessening the impact of the physician shortage. Although interest and demand for telemedicine is growing rapidly, there are still barriers that are preventing the technology from really taking off. The most significant barrier is reimbursement. Medicare only covers telemedicine services that meet certain geographical requirements, and only 40 state Medicaid programs reimburse for some telemedicine services.
Less than half of the states (20) have made laws requiring private insurance reimbursement for telemedicine services. With that said, there are people in Washington working to make telehealth more widely used. The recently formed Alliance for Connected Care is a group made up of former members of Congress whose goal is to remove the legal and regulatory barriers that are preventing widespread adoption of telehealth.