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Telehealth Market To Hit $6.28 Billion By 2020

Disease prevalence, aging, and cost pressures seen as major factors in soaring demand for remote monitoring devices.

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The global telehealth market is headed for explosive growth over the next decade, according to a new report from InMedica, a division of IMS Research. The main reasons are increasing disease prevalence, an aging population, and governmental pressure to hold down healthcare costs.

"Many public healthcare systems now have targets to reduce both the number of hospital visits and the length of stay in hospital," said Diane Wilkinson, research manager at InMedica, in a press release. "This has led to a growing trend for healthcare to be managed outside the traditional hospital environment, and as a result, there is a growing trend for patients to be monitored in their home environment using telehealth technologies once their treatment is complete."

In 2010, the report said, unit shipments of telehealth equipment worldwide were worth only $163.3 million, with North and South America accounting for $122.9 million of that amount. But in 2015, forecasts InMedica, the world total will be $990 million, and by 2020, the market will soar to $6.28 billion. At that point, the Americas will contribute just 36% of the total.

"By far the most established market for telehealth at present is the U.S., as evidenced by the Veteran's Health Administration's extensive home telehealth service, which aims to have 92,000 patients enrolled on telehealth services by 2012," Wilkinson commented. "There has also been some large-scale trial activity in Europe, most notably in the U.K. in 2010 and 2011, where [primary care trusts] have initiated some projects involving more than 2,000 patients."

[Health IT is making it harder to keep protected health information secure and avoid federal fines. To learn more, read HIPAA Pain: How To Cope.]

Asked why InMedica foresees telehealth growing so rapidly, especially after 2015, InMedica spokesman Wes Rogers cited several factors in an email to InformationWeek Healthcare. These included high acceptance of telehealth by patients and medical professionals, nationwide rollouts of telehealth systems in Western Europe, and expanded coverage of telehealth by Medicare and private insurers in the U.S.

Mary Beth Chalk, cofounder and chief marketing officer of Healthrageous, a Boston area startup that combines remote monitoring with health coaching, believes that InMedica's analysis is basically on target.

"We don't have the capacity in the U.S. system for people to simply passively get ill and then rely on the healthcare system to fix them," she said. "There aren't enough physicians to go around, and there's not enough money. So there really isn't any choice but to figure out how to leverage technology to enable consumers to become more effective in self-managing their illness."

Health insurers pay for some devices, such as blood pressure cuffs and glucose meters, which help people with chronic conditions track their health, Chalk notes. But what's needed to make remote monitoring a real business is for health plans to pay for "connected devices," including the systems that allow the transmission of data. She sees rising interest in this among health plans, but the prices of these systems will have to drop before there will be widespread coverage, she predicted.

According to InMedica, unit shipments of telehealth "gateways"--the equipment required to transmit data from home monitoring devices--totaled 67,000 in 2010. They're expected to grow to 561,000 in 2015 and to exceed 3.5 million units by 2020. The most common type of gateway is the "health hub," which sends data from a patient's home. However, there has been a surge in the use of mobile integrated gateways that allow patients to monitor their health with mobile devices.

Peripheral devices for remote patient monitoring will also take off like a rocket, InMedica predicts. "In 2010, the combined unit shipments of home-use digital blood glucose meters, blood pressure monitors, weight scales, pulse oximeters, and peak flow meters used in telehealth applications were estimated to be around 134,000," the report stated. "By 2015, the unit shipments are forecast to grow to over 950,000."

In 2010, the biggest categories of peripherals were blood pressure monitors and weight scales, and these will remain tops in 2015 and 2020. Third place goes to blood glucose meters.

Wireless devices--most equipped with Bluetooth--accounted for about a third of the total in all categories in 2010, except for pulse oximeters and peak flow meters, where there was much less use of wireless. By 2020, shipments of wireless devices will form a much higher percentage of the total, surpassing shipments of wired blood glucose meters and weight scales, InMedica projected.

InMedica views the evolving telehealth market as a convergence of several major players, including telehealth companies, device manufacturers, healthcare agencies, healthcare providers, and telecommunications companies.

In a report earlier this year, the research firm predicted, "Consumer telehealth will be an extension of the current home-use medical device market, with manufacturers offering additional Internet-based services to people that purchase their monitors. These services are expected to include simple analysis of readings and some level of generalized feedback that may include dietary and nutritional advice."

Find out how health IT leaders are dealing with the industry's pain points, from allowing unfettered patient data access to sharing electronic records. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: There needs to be better e-communication between technologists and clinicians. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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