Why hospitals are investing in telemedicine technology

By: Jonah Comstock | Aug 14, 2014        

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HIMSS telemedicine 8.2014Forty-six percent of healthcare providers answering a HIMSS survey used multiple telemedicine technologies in their practice, with the most popular technology by far being two-way video messaging.

HIMSS had 400 responses to an online survey, mostly from directors and managers at hospitals, but also from doctors and nurses in hospitals and private practices. The results paint a picture of telemedicine slowly being adopted to fill niches in a healthcare system still very much focused on Meaningful Use.

“Having different solutions integrated and the ability to seamlessly connect physicians to patients, physicians to other physicians and organizations to other organizations, the electronic health record [EHR] is seen as somewhat of the hub of being able to do that within an organization,” HIMSS Director of Research Brendan FitzGerald told MobiHealthNews. “Now as organizations move toward more value-based care and set up ACOs and even HIEs, telemedicine networks are becoming increasingly important in terms of being able to connect all that clinical data together. ”

The survey found that while nearly 60 percent of respondents were using two-way video and 55 percent were using image sharing technology, only about a quarter were using remote patient monitoring and less than 20 percent were using smartphones for telemedicine. When hospitals without telemedicine systems were asked what they were considering implementing, two-way video was still at the top with 67 percent saying they were looking into it.

But in terms of which technologies hospitals were integrating into their EHR, the list was very different: Only 23 percent of two-way video users had integrated it with their EHR, whereas 88 percent of medication management users and 76 percent of patient portal users had integrated those features. Image sharing, at 55 percent adoption and 73 percent integrating it into their EHRs, was high on both lists.

Perhaps the most interesting finding of the survey was the reasons hospitals gave for implementing telemedicine. The study showed that telemedicine is still being used the most by people in rural or underserved areas: 44 percent listed that as their main reason for using the technology. But 33 percent said their interest was part of a larger patient engagement initiative, such as an ACO.

When asked about primary drivers for telemedicine, 40 percent said they were filling gaps in patient care, 23 percent wanted to offer care that wasn’t otherwise available, 15 percent wanted to remove barriers to patient care and just 2.5 percent were primarily driven by overall cost reduction.

“Filling gaps in patient care was one of the key drivers for investing a lot of these technologies,” FitzGerald said. “Providing the coverage they don’t have, providing the specialties some organizations might not have. This provides them a bit more flexibility and allows them to cover more specialties as well as [to treat] the patients in need on site or remotely.”