Telemedicine and the evolution of healthcare

This week, the 2015 Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Conference was held in Chicago, and we took the opportunity to discover what the newest trends and innovations in health care and medical technology are. One of the most talked about emerging technologies we saw at the conference was telehealth.

With so many advancements being made in both broadband speeds and online communication tools, telehealth is becoming an increasingly beneficial resource for health care providers. Multiple sessions at HIMSS 2015 focused on this topic, and one thing is clear: Telehealth is the future of medicine because everyone has something to gain from it.

American Well CEO Roy Schoenberg, who led a session entitled “Consumerism in Health Care: Video Visits on the Go,” said the goal of telehealth initiatives is to keep patients at home as long as possible. This goal is twofold. First are the patients who come in to the hospital or doctors office but don’t actually need any medical help. According to an anecdote from one physician, around 40 percent of patients who come in for visits don’t need to, either because there is nothing wrong with them or there is a simple solution to their problem. With telehealth, visits are shorter and patients who don’t need care don’t have to travel unnecessarily and those who do can get help more quickly.

” Around 40% of patients who come in for visits don’t need to.”

Alternatively, there are many patients who need maintenance care who could save a great deal of time and money by using telemedicine tools to meet with their doctors instead of making in-person visits. If someone with a chronic condition is taking care of their health and properly monitoring their treatment, there is no reason for them to make a trip to the doctor, fill out a bunch of forms and wait to be seen just to say nothing has changed and they are feeling good. Instead, a short video call with their physician can be made and then the patient can go about their day as usual.

Save money by seeing your doctor at home
According to Schoenberg, telehealth initiatives are also poised to save a lot of money. Telehealth visits are most often used for urgent care situations, and each visit saves around $150. Without the option to see a doctor electronically, 7 percent of those urgent care patients would have gone to the emergency room for treatment instead. Telemedicine reduces the number of needless visits, allowing the patients that really need in-person care to receive it more quickly.

Though the technology is relatively new, the benefits offered by telemedicine are not going unnoticed. In his talk, Schoenberg noted research that found 17 million people would switch doctors if it meant they would gain access to telehealth programs, and that number is continuing to grow. At the same time, businesses are starting to take note of their employees’ interest in telemedicine options. In a session entitled “Creating a Game-Changing Telehealth Strategy,” Subsidium Healthcare’s Jay Backstrom and Jeff Jones noted that 37 percent of companies are making telehealth available as part of a health plan, and more are starting to follow suit.

healthcare5
As the telemedicine market continues to grow and evolve, reliable access to broadband connections will become increasingly important for both individual users and health care providers. As the technology becomes more popular, it will likely become a driving force for improvements in the nation’s broadband infrastructure. At the same time, enhanced Internet connections will make it easier for advancements to be made to telehealth systems.

Tech’s heavy hitters are getting into the game
Perhaps the biggest news about telehealth – and proof that it’s becoming a really big deal – to occur this week is the announcement by IBM that they are launching a telehealth initiative known as Watson Health. Watson will be a new business unit for the tech giant and will focus on aggregating and analyzing health information to create individualized treatment plans, as well as helping doctors and patients connect through Web portals and applications.

Keep checking back all week for more news from the 2015 HIMSS conference!