What is telemedicine?

Digital technologies have transformed the ways people communicate, collaborate and make decisions, healthcare and well-being included.

In the era of increased awareness of diseases and general interest in well-being, both patients and doctors are looking for on-demand healthcare which results in improved outcomes due to instant interaction and availability of health data. Therefore, it’s no surprise that telemedicine is enjoying growth.

Telemedicine: several important trends

US data shows that in 2016 market penetration for telemedicine was less than .5% while the potential is estimated at 400+ million consults – approximately one-third of the 1.25 billion annual U.S. ambulatory care visits.

  • Aging of population in developed countries is increasing the pressure over the healthcare system and healthcare spending. It is forecasted that in the US it will be increasing by 5.8% per year between 2018 and 2015. 38% of doctor visits, including 27% of Emergency Room (E.R.) visits could have been replaced with telemedicine.
  • The average Emergency Room (ER) cost visit is calculated at the level of $1,233 based on 2008 NIH data. This reflects the median cost for visits that did not lead to result in a hospital admission. Due to healthcare costs inflation, this number is expected to grow.
  • A 2016 survey by the NIH concluded that between 94 percent and 99 percent were “very satisfied” with telehealth, while one-third of respondents preferred telemedicine session to an in-office doctor visit. Additionally, studies show that the quality of telehealth services is equal to the traditional walk-in consultations.
  • A survey found that 23% of people did not see a doctor with their health conditions due to long wait times in clinics.
  • Telemedicine makes time usage more efficient for both patients and doctors. A study published in 2015 in the American Journal of Managed Care, by researchers at Harvard Medical School, concluded that the average doctor visit took 121 minutes; 37 minutes of travel time, 64 minutes of waiting time, and just 20 minutes of face-to-face time with physicians. A 2017 Medscape survey shows that 56% of all physician visits included only 16 minutes or less of actual face-to-face time with patients. Such ineffective usage of time can be reorganized by telehealth service introduction.
  • Telehealth can address such issues as access to care at nights and on weekends, and shortages of physicians and specialists in rural areas. Only in the US approximately 15% of the population lives in rural areas and only 10% of the nation’s physicians practice in rural areas. Inadequate distribution of specialists is even more striking in other parts of the world.
  • Telemedicine can address the issue of growing shortages of Primary Care Physicians (PCP): the total number of PCPs in the US can only meet 50% or less of the population’s needs while almost 65 mln Americans don’t have access to primary care providers.
  • Telehealth is the preferred healthcare method by the millennials: 60% are willing to replace in-office visits with telehealth sessions. They appreciate convenience and lower costs of telemedicine, especially in non-emergency cases. This is confirmed by a 2015 survey that found that just 43% of millennials were likely to visit a Primary Care Physician for non-emergency treatment, as opposed to seeking a more convenient telehealth option.According to 2014 Towers Watson study, telemedicine can provide up to 6$ bln in annual healthcare costs for employers that constitute up to 8% of total operating expenses. These expenses may be redirected to lower-cost alternatives, decrease costs for avoided follow-up visits and lead to increased employee productivity, improved health through earlier treatments, reduced stress and decreased employee burden of sharing healthcare costs.