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Telemedicine Searches For Strategy, Adoption

Slow adoption of telemedicine reflects few reimbursement opportunities, lack of cohesiveness among key players, study finds.

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If the adoption of telemedicine at hospitals and other medical facilities is to take flight, service providers, technology vendors, and healthcare payers and providers must collaborate to build a cohesive strategy that involves a mature reimbursement model.

These are the finding of a soon-to-be-released IDC report, the first in a series four, entitled: Describing the Telemedicine Landscape in the United States. By researching trends in telemedicine as well as interviewing 1,202 consumers, IDC found that while there is slow adoption of the technology, there are a few bright spots as consumers and companies figure out how telemedicine can help healthcare providers close the long distance gap by using audio, video, and other telecommunications and electronic information processing technologies.

Among the findings, the survey showed that only 4.6 percent of respondents actually said they used videoconferencing to receive medical care. Among those who said they had, 6.3 percent were 35 and younger while only 0.8 percent of those who said they have used videoconferencing were 65 and older.

"People who are 35 and younger are much more likely to have tried videoconferencing for medical care and as the technology becomes more pervasive there's going to be a generation that is much more comfortable getting their care delivered virtually," said Irene Berlinsky, the reports co-author and IDC's senior research analyst covering multiplay services.

The low rate of adoption for telemedicine that involves audio and video transmissions for doctor/patient or doctor to doctor consultations, speaks to the difficulties of finding a payment model that will encourage hospitals and technology companies like Dell Inc. to embrace the technology.

"So far the reimbursement model for healthcare telepresence isn't there yet. A physician can't see a patient across a telepresence environment and get reimbursed by most systems," said Jamie Coffin, Dell's vice president of healthcare and life sciences. "We are looking at it and we are doing a lot of things around thinking about different modes of delivering healthcare to patients, but I would say we are not probably driving very much into the telepresence space yet because we don't think the market is there yet," Coffin said.

"Adoption of telemedicine is strongly dependent on reimbursements so it's not price point per se. Where it's going to be really important for telemedicine to take off is if it starts being reimbursed," Berlinsky said.

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