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Execs View Telehealth As Game Changer

Telehealth will transform healthcare, but reimbursement models, fear of technology are barriers to adoption, study shows.

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Through the use of telehealth technology, the U.S. healthcare delivery systems will undergo a significant transformation that will improve healthcare outcomes and cut costs, a new study shows.

The study, conducted by research firm Penn Schoen Berland on behalf of Intel, interviewed 75 C-level executives at hospitals, home health organizations, and insurance companies. Among the findings, 89% of healthcare decision makers believe telehealth will transform healthcare in the next 10 years.

The study also revealed that telehealth solutions, which deliver health-related services and information via telecommunications and computing technologies, are currently being used by two-thirds of healthcare professionals with an 87% satisfaction rate.

Respondents who use the technology say they believe that improved patient outcomes are the biggest perceived advantage to telehealth adoption, followed by additional benefits such as more complete clinician access to patient data and early identification of health issues. Of respondents not currently using telehealth, 50% say they plan to implement the technology within the next year.

The market for telehealth and home health monitoring is expected to grow from $3 billion in 2009 to an estimated $7.7 billion by 2012. Telehealth's growth is likely to coincide with an increase in the number of aging and chronically ill patients. The report notes that a hospital-based, transaction-driven healthcare system will make it more difficult to support these patients.

"The survey results reinforce the undeniable fact that new models of care such as telehealth must be adopted to deal with the rapid increase in the aging and chronically ill populations," said Charles Goodwin, director of market development at Intel Digital Health. "Within our current healthcare system, we simply have no way to provide care for this massive population; most importantly, survey respondents recognize this and believe that telehealth will be a primary solution," Goodwin added.

Over the next five years, respondents said, telehealth's adoption rates will be accelerated by new government legislation, such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which gives healthcare providers an added incentive to adopt telehealth when dealing with chronically ill and aging populations.

Nevertheless, there are barriers to adoption; foremost among them is the lack of a reimbursement model, respondents said. Despite evidence that telehealth can reduce hospital readmissions by up to 25% and significantly cut costs for healthcare organizations, many see changes in reimbursement policy as necessary to enable wider access to telehealth-based care.

Another barrier to adoption is the doubt that clinical staff and patients will be able to use these new technologies successfully, the report said.

According to Goodwin, companies need to start delivering creative solutions and innovating for these new business models. For example, direct-to-consumer models that allow consumers to buy telehealth solutions for themselves and their loved ones could help increase the adoption rates for telehealth devices. Additionally, patients must start accepting more responsibility and become more engaged in their own healthcare to support this demand.

"It was surprising that after reimbursement, the second-highest perceived barrier to telehealth adoption is a concern that patients and clinicians won't be able to successfully use it," Goodwin said. "The survey reflects a need to better educate decision-makers and the public about how easy it is to use telehealth solutions," Goodwin added.

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