Telehealth, the use of a digital network to remotely monitor and treat patients, is an emerging market with great potential to improve the quality and delivery of care and decrease healthcare costs. However, the work flow processes and technology need to improve before telehealth adoption becomes more widespread.
Telehealth allows a patient to be in a different physical location than the medical expert providing treatment, reducing the number of visits to the hospital and improving patient outcomes. Telehealth solutions can range from simple communications like emails sent between patients and providers to extremely complex procedures like remote robotic surgery. Today, common forms of telehealth include video conferencing and home monitoring devices. For example, diabetics would be able to transmit their blood sugar levels to their provider for review, via a telephone line from the comfort of their home.
A growing, ageing population coupled with a shortage of healthcare providers is one of the leading drivers of telehealth adoption. However, significant barriers affect the uptake of telehealth. Despite the benefits of telehealth, the lack of reimbursement continues to be the most pressing challenge to widespread adoption. With no financial incentive for healthcare providers to implement the technology, providers are likely to view telehealth as an increase in workload without a subsequent increase in pay.
Despite the lack of reimbursement, the market’s growth is nevertheless being driven by the sheer growth in numbers of the elderly and chronically ill population. In particular, homecare telehealth, also known as remote patient monitoring, will grow at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 56% compared to 9.9% in the clinical market according to Datamonitor research. The overall global telehealth market is expected to exceed $8 billion by 2012.
In the long-term, telehealth devices will also be directly available to general consumers, further increasing the scope of the market. Before uptake can increase, however, telehealth needs to move into the forefront of healthcare agendas and become an integral part of the daily practice of medicine. Successful telehealth solutions will be easily incorporated into clinical workflows and linked to other healthcare technologies, like electronic health records.
Telehealth must meet needs of end-users
Additionally, to further increase adoption rates, telehealth solutions need to be better tailored to their end users. Telehealth technology is still in its early stages; devices are simplistic, yet complex at the same time and have not reached their full clinical potential. Furthermore, the market is not one-size-fits-all. Patients and providers are not all the same and thus, the technologies that they prefer will be different.
The mismatch between available technologies and the day-to-day realities and preferences of end users needs to be addressed. Accuracy, mobility and ease of use are a few of the criteria that end users will use to judge which solutions they will purchase.