If you’re in the healthcare industry on any level, you’re probably aware that telehealth has continuously gained traction in the last decade, although it’s actually been around much longer having entered the marketing in the 1950’s. Telehealth encompasses a broad variety of technology-enabled care services but is it the same thing as Telemedicine? Some organizations disagree. The American Telemedicine Association views telemedicine and telehealth to be interchangeable. However, the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration defines telehealth as a “broader scope of remote healthcare services than telemedicine including non-clinical services like provider training, administrative meetings, and medical education.” Alternatively, telemedicine refers more specifically to remote clinical services.
In reality, whatever side of the telehealth / telemedicine debate you’re on, there’s no arguing that it is exploding into the healthcare market. The global telehealth market is projected to reach $9.35 billion by 2021, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 27.5%, per MarketsandMarkets. Last year, in 2016, the market was valued at $2.78 billion. Currently, the US and European markets are the most lucrative and have seen the most growth in recent years. In 2016, North America accounted for the largest share of the global telehealth market, followed by Europe, with the biggest contributing factors being rising healthcare costs, physician shortages, and the aging population.
Like most things that enter the healthcare industry and begin to flourish, Telehealth became the top regulatory issue of 2016. In fact, the Federation of State Medical Boards, which conducted a survey, found that 75% of boards named telemedicine as an important regulatory consideration. The majority of concerns are related to cross-state practice and reimbursement. Telehealth makes it possible for providers to connect with patients in other states. When this happens, the originating site (the location of the patient) is considered the “place of service,” and therefore the distant site provider must adhere to the licensing rules and regulations of the state in which the patient is located. Therefore, in the case of a telehealth consultation between a provider in California and a patient in Hawaii, for example, the provider must obtain a Hawaii medical license before performing the telemedicine consultation. Under certain circumstances, such as emergencies, an exception may be made to the requirements for state licensure. However, If all of your patient interactions are within the State in which you are licensed, you maintain your licensure in good standing, and you comply with accepted standards, you are unlikely to have any licensure issues with regards to telehealth. In fact, most concerns are centered around tri-state areas where it is more common for patients to cross state lines for care to see a provider who is not licensed in the state where the patient lives, so a telehealth visit at the originating site might not be acceptable.
Regardless of the regulatory issues that are still being worked out, it hasn’t stopped the widespread adoption of telehealth technology globally. Currently, more than 30% of countries, both developed and developing, have a national telemedicine policy. This is evidence of a global adoption for telehealth and supports the projected growth rates mentioned above.
Though state licensure laws have created some concern, another challenge that faces small practices, with regards to the adoption of telehealth, is the overall intimidation of technology. Many providers feel they are not especially tech savvy and the thought of adding a service that is technology-based is somewhat daunting to them. Fortunately, the growth of telehealth will bring along with it the increase of vendors for providers to consider. With 2017 being named the “Year of Telehealth,” practices will more choices of vendors that offer an integrated telehealth system which meets the needs of their practice with more efficiency and perhaps a simpler approach than some those that entered the scene first. As with most technology, as time passes the science gets better and the software becomes more accessible by all. Are you considering adding telehealth to your practice? If so, take a look at AnywhereCare, a completely integrated telehealth technology that is designed for ease of use. Learn more here: AnywhereCare