Telemedicine is an emerging service in healthcare technology positioned to skyrocket in popularity through 2018 and beyond. With a market value climbing from $14.3 billion in 2014 to a projected $36.2 billion by 20201, telemedicine is poised to transform the way millions of American receive healthcare in the not-so-distant future.
So, what is telemedicine?
“The remote delivery of health care services and clinical information using telecommunications technology. This includes a wide array of clinical services using internet, wireless, satellite and telephone media,” according to the American Telemedicine Association’s (ATA) telemedicine definition2.
“Telehealth” and “telecare” are often used to describe this service, so if you’re wondering “what is telehealth?”, the ATA considers the telehealth definition to be the same as the telemedicine defintion2.
As healthcare costs continue to rise in the U.S.3, tech services like telehealth can save you time and money, especially when it comes to non-emergency medical services. These services are often available on-demand and can range from video consultations with a certified physician to counseling with a licensed psychotherapist via your smartphone, tablet or computer.
In fact, more than 70% of urgent illness conditions—colds, flus and skin infections, for example—can be treated with the help of telemedicine4.
We’re only scratching the surface when it comes to the history, applications and benefits of telemedicine.
Did you know…
Demand for telemedicine is growing—fast
Looking at the statistics, it’s easy to see why providers and consumers are using telemedicine more and more every year: convenience and cost.
The average consumer in a U.S. city spends 18.4 days between making an appointment and actually visiting their doctor’s office5. The average in-office visit takes 121 minutes—20 of which are spent actually seeing the doctor, while the rest spent traveling to/from the office and sitting in the waiting room5.
In contrast, consumers who opt for video visits spend about five minutes waiting and eight to 10 minutes seeing their doctor according to a case study on Southwest Medical Associates, one of Nevada’s largest multi-specialty medical groups6.
Providers seem to be in favor of telemedicine’s cost-reducing services as well. Over 70% of healthcare providers are currently using telemedicine solutions or services—a drastic rise from 51% in 20147.
Telemedicine can help to reduce costs8 by use of remote analysis services like physician video visits and specialized fields like telepathology (the study of diseases) and teleradiology (the transmission of radiological images like x-rays MRIs and CTs).
Furthermore, telemedicine companies often utilize a pool of healthcare providers across the country that work as one resource for the consumer. This gives consumers, especially ones in rural areas9, the freedom to receive care on their own schedule, opposed to the restrictive business hours of the brick-and-mortar healthcare facilities in their area.
The history of telemedicine dates back to the 1920s
Oftentimes, it’s amusing to look back at old media predictions of a retro-future with flying cars and robot butlers. Sometimes, they’re not far off. In 1925, Radio News published a speculative cover story by Hugo Gernsback, an American inventor who hypothesized that physicians would soon be able to hear, see, and examine their patients by way of a machine he deemed the Teladactyl with a two-way video screen and other diagnostic features10.
While Gernsback’s machine never made it to production, the seeds of telemedicine had been planted in the minds of doctors and scientists across the nation.
The American scientific community quickly built off Gernsback’s dream, culminating in 1959 when clinicians at the University of Nebraska used a two-way television system to disperse neurological examinations and related information to medical students across campus—widely considered the first medical use of video communication in the U.S.11.
Advances in telemedicine remained constant through the latter half of the century, but public interest was generally limited to residents in rural areas with small medical facilities that relied on telemedicine services like teleradiology to send and receive x-rays to radiology specialists and who could now analyze and advise doctors on the patient’s condition faster than ever before.
Future applications of telemedicine could be absolutely game-changing
Just as researchers did in the 1920’s, today’s medical science and technology researchers are looking to the future of telemedicine and its’ potential applications.
The use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) devices has gigantic disruptive potential, which could change the way healthcare providers offer their services and receive continuing training throughout their careers.
AR mobile devices and apps have already given consumers the power to self-monitor health data points like heart rate, amount of daily physical activity, and more. Further advancements include contact lenses that provide visual prompts to diabetics when their glucose levels start fluctuating to wearables like the Apple Watch that uses near-field communication to remind users to take their prescription medications when they’re nearby12.
While VR technology is currently used for laparoscopic surgery and colonoscopy training, many hope it will eventually give medical students more opportunities to virtually perform invasive procedures and emergency resuscitations, all before they can do so on real-life patients. A number of U.S. medical school have made big changes to their anatomy curriculum by incorporating VR glasses and displays to allow realistic rotation and manipulation of anatomic models13.
This hope extends to robotic laparoscopic surgery as well, which would allow surgeons to go from monitoring a 2-D video screen before using their hands/tools to viewing live 3-D video, allowing them to perform surgery without ever diverting their gaze from these 3-D consoles14.
Your health insurance agent may already offer coverage that comes with telemedicine features
As telemedicine continues in popularity, many insurers may cover services or offer reimbursement. The extent of coverage will vary by insurer and state. Talk to your agent about your available options today.
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1: “Five Telemedicine Trends Transforming Health Care in 2016.” Nathaniel M. Lacktman. Foley.com. https://www.foley.com/five-telemedicine-trends-transforming-health-care-in-2016/
2: American Telemedicine Association. “About Telemedicine.” AmericanTelemed.org. http://www.americantelemed.org/main/about/about-telemedicine/telemedicine-faqs
3: “U.S. healthcare spending to climb 5.3 percent in 2018: agency.” Yasmeen Abutaleb. Reuters.com. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-healthcare-spending/u-s-healthcare-spending-to-climb-5-3-percent-in-2018-agency-idUSKCN1FY2ZD
4: “The Importance and Value of Telemedicine.” Karandeep Virdi. ElectronicHealthReporter.com. http://electronichealthreporter.com/importance-value-telemedicine/
5: “Paying for Health Care with Time.” Jake Miller. Harvard Medical School. https://hms.harvard.edu/news/paying-health-care-time
6: “Case Study: Southwest Medical’s winning strategy for telehealth.” Beth Principi. American Well. https://www.americanwell.com/case-study-southwest-medicals-winning-strategy-for-telehealth/
7: “71% of Healthcare Providers Use Telehealth, Telemedicine Tools.” Thomas Beaton. MHealthIntelligence.com. https://mhealthintelligence.com/news/71-of-healthcare-providers-use-telehealth-telemedicine-tools
8: “5 ways telemedicine is driving down healthcare costs.” Steff Denches. Healthcare IT News. https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/5-ways-telemedicine-driving-down-healthcare-costs
10: “Telemedicine Predicted in 1925.” Matt Novak. Smithsonian.com. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/telemedicine-predicted-in-1925-124140942/
11: “Telognosis.” J. Gershon-Cohen, A.G. Cooley. RSNA.org. https://pubs.rsna.org/doi/10.1148/55.4.582?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3Dpubmed
12: “How augmented reality and virtual reality devices are boosting medicine.” Chris Newmarker. Medical Design and Outsourcing. https://www.medicaldesignandoutsourcing.com/how-ar-vr-devices-boosting-medicine/
13: “Virtual Reality Check.” Nicholas Genes, MD, PhD. Telemed Magazine. http://www.telemedmag.com/article/2016715ub73avh975fjs43o8ixcivxd304uag/
14: “VIRTUAL REALITY AND THE FUTURE OF TELEMEDICINE.” Tim Edlund. Synoptec Blog. https://www.softworksgroup.com/synoptec-blog/virtual-reality-and-the-future-of-telemedicine/