Telehealth Services Are Entering the Mainstream

Frost & Sullivan predicts the U.S. telehealth market to be valued at $28.27 billion in 2021—a dramatic increase from $7.81 billion in 2016. The key customer is the patient who requires high-precision remote monitoring or immediate access to a physician’s medical advice, or who cannot travel long distances for second opinions. Read about the current market and what is to come.

Telehealth is central to health care delivery transformation as the health care and information communication technology industries converge. The key customer is the patient who requires high-precision remote monitoring or immediate access to a physician’s medical advice, or who cannot travel long distances for second opinions.  Frost & Sullivan predicts the U.S. telehealth market to be valued at $28.27 billion in 2021—a dramatic increase from $7.81 billion in 2016. 

Major Market Segments

The telehealth market’s four major segments are remote patient monitoring, virtual visits, mobile health (mHealth) and personal emergency response systems.

mHealth can connect a patient to health care providers regardless of the patient’s location, and is expected to be the fastest-growing segment in the next 5 years (at a compound annual growth rate of 34.3%). It is evolving as an ecosystem with an interdependent mix of services and enabling technologies such as smartphones, tablets, wearables and medical-grade apps. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth standards will enable remote and portable connectivity. Companies offering solutions in this segment include Apple, Qualcomm Life and Tactio Health Group.

Personal emergency response systems include phone-connected, in-home emergency alert devices with a wearable component; integrated live call center services or mobile virtual network operators with GPS; and fall detection technologies and wearable devices for in-home/out-of-home use. ADT Security Services, AlertOne Services LLC and Bay Alarm Medical Co. are among the companies offering solutions in this area.

Remote patient monitoring is a system with a variety of sensors that collect patient readings, gateway interfaces that transmit the data to the cloud, contact centers that interpret the data and stimulate response mechanisms, software that manages and analyzes the data, and a response team that intervenes when necessary. Honeywell, Ideal Life, Medtronic and Philips Telehealth are notable companies in this space.

Telehealth virtual visits include asynchronous sessions involving non-real-time functions such as scheduling, relaying messages and symptom evaluations. Real-time video or phone consultations involve a clinical evaluation and next-step recommendation that may include dispensing a prescription, a lab referral, or recommendations for virtual or in-person follow-up or lab tests. Telehealth virtual visit providers are being attracted to specialty offerings, such as teledermatology, behavioral health and pediatrics. Teladoc, American Well, MDLIVE and Doctor on Demand, for example, include behavioral health services staffed by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

Notable Subsegments

Several telehealth subsegments could break out to become stand-alone market segments.

Telecardiology/tele-imaging services involve transmission of radiological images to remotely located radiologists for consultation and diagnosis. This permits remote ECG monitoring of patients with suspected cardiac arrhythmias or those who present a risk of developing this condition. It includes real-time, continuously attended cardiac monitoring systems and systems that produce patient data for cardiovascular information systems.

Tele-ICU (electronic ICU) addresses the shortage of intensivists (physicians who treat critically ill patients). This has serious implications on patients in intensive care units (ICUs). The pressure on ICUs will build as the population ages and the prevalence of chronic conditions increases. The intensivist shortage has been felt most in rural locations where some institutions have no coverage, especially during evening and weekend hours. Remote ICU monitoring is a promising market opportunity.

Telediabetes management connects diabetes patients to providers for active or passive monitoring of A1C and daily glucose readings. Patients have manually monitored their readings for decades.

Telebehavioral or telemental health offers remote treatment of depression and anxiety, and behavior modification programs such as smoking cessation and lifestyle management.

Teledermatology can save a patient valuable time through remote assessment of skin lesions and better triage for in-person care with a professional diagnosis.

Telemedication management is interactive monitoring of patients’ adherence to medication regimens. Telehealth improves the ability to track compliance, effectiveness and interactions or side effects in real time or via asynchronous techniques.

Telestroke management allows a neurologist to provide remote diagnosis and treatment for a potential stroke victim. It is especially important in hospitals that lack neurologists, with the understanding that “time is brain.”

Telepediatrics gives parents round-the-clock access to assessments and diagnosis and helps them avoid crowded, “sick” waiting rooms. Some telehealth virtual visit companies offer this service.

Telemedicine platforms manage communications, workflow and critical operations through a variety of synchronous or asynchronous video, telecom, email or patient portal functions that permit online or mobile communications between patients and their physicians. The software or cloud-based systems meet security and privacy guidelines and offer patients 24-hour access to personal health information from their home or any location with a secure internet or mobile connection. Patients can use the service to ask questions, make appointments and view health information such as recent doctor visits, their medication, or authoritative content about medical conditions and lifestyle management. It often includes virtual patient waiting rooms and ultimately improves patient engagement.

Other specialist services include apps and monitoring programs that can be used in specialty domains such as neonatal and geriatrics. It includes doctor-to-doctor consultations.

What’s the Future?

An important factor in the growth of telehealth will be the transition to value-added payment systems in which patient outcomes are measured. Currently, telehealth is driven by innovative technology but hampered by the lack of a standard reimbursable formula across all patient demographics. A transition to capitated or bundled payment models is likely to stimulate wider adoption. Opportunities will be more visible in specialty areas, such as behavioral health, dermatology, pediatrics and cardiology, which will become dependent on telehealth capabilities driven by confidence in remote monitoring, virtual visits and round-the-clock access.

Within 5 to 7 years, telehealth will become a mainstream health option. Patients will be able to maintain ongoing relationships with their physicians while enjoying easy access. Meanwhile, the global proliferation of the Internet of Medical Things will increase the likelihood of people monitoring their health, which is likely to reduce the number of medical problems that evolve into chronic conditions.

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