Telemedicine is drastically changing the health care industry, enhancing everything from the way care is delivered to the quality of care in rural areas of the country. The positive outcomes that the telemedicine market — including software, services and hardware — has had so far on the sector has led to an expected growth rate of 18.4 percent from 2014–20.
What is responsible for the rapid growth of the market, which was at $17.8 billion in 2014? The number of patients worldwide using home health technologies is predicted to rise from 14.3 million in 2014 to 78.5 million by 2020. The aging baby boomer population, ease of access, rising health care costs and increased prevalence of patients with chronic diseases also have contributed to the popularity of telemedicine within the industry.
How telemedicine affects patient outcomes and costs of primary care
Studies have shown that patient outcomes improve with the help of telehealth. Recent research published in the Cochrane Library found that disease-specific quality of life was enhanced for patients experiencing heart failure who were treated with the help of telemedicine compared to those who received standard care.
In addition to improving patient outcomes in many circumstances, telehealth is also very cost effective. Research performed by the American Telemedicine Association showed that about 10.1 million physician office visits are made annually from nursing facilities in the U.S. These in-person physician office visits and transportation cost around $1.29 billion per year. Telemedicine could help drastically cut the number of transports and save as much as $479 million when used to its full potential.
The impact on the health care providers’ role
Surveys have revealed that many nurses feel telemedicine has improved various aspects of their jobs. For example, one 2016 survey of 1,200 nurses published in the Journal of Critical Care showed that 79 percent agreed that tele-ICU systems enable nurses to enhance patient care. About 63 percent believed that tele-systems allow tasks to get done faster, and over 63 percent agreed they improve job performance.
Hospital admission rates are also positively affected by telehealth. Various randomized control trials and recent studies show that telehealth can reduce hospital admission rates among patients with long-term chronic diseases and makes it easier for health care professionals to encourage better health management among patients. This improvement is largely due to the fact that telehealth provides patients with more confidence when it comes to monitoring their own health.
While telemedicine can’t replace doctors or nurses, it can help patients gain a better understanding of their health status and encourage them to enhance their health management, including improving their medical adherence. As a result, telehealth can enhance patient-staff relationships, which ultimately improves overall quality of care and outcomes.
The effect on health care in rural settings
Telehealth makes health care more accessible for Americans living in rural areas. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a total of 65 percent of all Health Professional Shortage Areas are in rural areas. Americans living in these locations experience a lack of accessibility and reduced quality of care. Telemedicine may be just what these areas need to enhance the access residents have to high-quality patient care.
A survey conducted by the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa asked 292 clinical and administrative staff at 71 hospitals in rural settings about how they believed telemedicine impacts the recruitment of health care professionals in their areas. The results showed that 65 percent agreed telemedicine helped with recruitment and retention of health care professionals, bringing more qualified health care workers to rural areas. Attracting more doctors and family nurse practitioners to the rural parts of the U.S. is the first step to enhancing care in areas with a significant health professional shortage.
As the health care industry works to improve access to care in these Health Professional Shortage Areas, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued new regulatory guidance for on-site physician coverage that is expected to accelerate the implementation of tele-emergency services in rural hospitals. This requirement is predicted to make rural health care jobs even more appealing to nurses and doctors.