new report from InMedica, a subsidiary of IMS Research. Defining telehealth narrowly as remote patient monitoring (RPM), InMedica predicts that it will be applied to 1.8 million patients worldwide by 2017, compared to 308,000 today.
The biggest driver of market growth is the worldwide efforts of governments to curb the growth of healthcare costs. "Readmission penalties introduced by the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are driving providers to adopt telehealth as a means of reducing readmission penalties," the report noted. "Faced with increasing healthcare expenditure, other governments, including the U.K., France and China, are also promoting telehealth as a long-term cost-saving measure."
Partly because of the effort to reduce readmissions, and also because of a strong evidence base, congestive heart failure is the condition for which telemonitoring is most often prescribed. However, the report pointed out that patients with respiratory conditions including COPD, diabetes, hypertension, and mental illnesses are also being monitored remotely.
[ Data mining is a big part of efforts to cut healthcare costs. See 7 Big Data Solutions Try To Reshape Healthcare. ]
The majority of patients who are monitored have been discharged from the hospital, often more than once. This is largely because the economic and clinical outcomes of telehealth have been better established for these patients than for those with chronic conditions who have been seen only in ambulatory clinics, said Theo Ahadome, a senior analyst at InMedica, in an announcement about the study.
In the United States, for example, an estimated 140,000 post-acute patients were monitored remotely in 2012, compared to just 80,000 ambulatory-care patients, the InMedica study found.
The 220,000 U.S. patients who received this technology comprised the vast majority of those who received it worldwide last year. Ahadome told InformationWeek Healthcare that he expects the U.S. to continue to drive market growth in coming years. One reason, he said, is that 4 million patients were discharged from U.S. hospitals last year with chronic conditions like congestive heart failure and diabetes.
However, he pointed out, the U.K.'s National Health Service has taken a cue from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and has begun to promote telehealth vigorously. Following the publication of an NHS study showing that telehealth decreased the mortality rate in patients with one of three chronic conditions, while reducing hospital admissions and bed days, the U.K. has set a goal of providing telehealth to 3 million patients within five years, Ahadome said.
Shane Walker, associate director for consumer health & wellness/digital health at InMedica, told InformationWeek Healthcare that other European countries are also looking at telehealth as way to reduce healthcare costs. Denmark, for example, is following the Continua Health Alliance's guidelines in designing a national telemedicine program, he noted.
Walker also pointed out that telemedicine can help providers meet the objectives of the Affordable Care Act and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as the U.S. government tries to limit healthcare spending growth and cope with an aging population. That's the main reason why he expects to see big growth in the U.S. market for telehealth.
The desire of providers to improve healthcare and cement ties with patients will be another driver of worldwide demand for telehealth over the next five years, the report said. So will the efforts of private insurers to increase competitiveness and reduce demand for healthcare services. But there is currently very little patient demand for telehealth, it noted, except in rural areas where it is difficult for patients to access healthcare services.
That may change in the future, however, as mobile health applications become more prevalent, the InMedica executives said. While fitness and wellness apps currently dominate the mobile health market, Ahadome observed, consumers who use those apps might gravitate toward chronic disease apps if they develop chronic conditions.
While the InMedica predictions might seem bullish, another recent study by research firm Berg Insight presented much brighter projections. According to this paper, 2.8 million patients worldwide used home-based remote monitoring devices in 2012. Berg forecast that the number of these systems with integrated communication capabilities would grow to 9.4 million connections worldwide by 2017.
As conceived by Berg, the category is far broader than the telehealth systems referenced in the InMedica report. The largest category for "connected medical devices" today, Berg said is cardiac rhythm management devices. Sleep therapy monitoring is also coming on strong, the firm noted.
Editor's note: Corrected name of the Affordable Care Act.