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Why telemedicine is finally ready to take off

Brian Eastwood | Feb. 26, 2013
Healthcare reform, technology and Capitol Hill legislation with bipartisan support all point to a bright future for telemedicine. In fact, this may be the year that telemedicine gains widespread adoption.

One way the United Kingdom is advancing telemedicine is through private sector partnerships, which Sargeant describes as "telehealth as a service." Many NHS hospitals already outsource human resources and IT operations, so outsourcing telemedicine management for medical device installation or even triage services makes sense for some institutions.

Use of telemedicine technology is even more nascent in the United Kingdom than in the United States, and it's largely been incumbent vendors participating in early U.K. pilot projects, but Sargeant sees the market progressing with the spread of broadband, smartphones, tablet PCs, mobile applications and smart TV.

"We do see telehealth as something that becomes mainstream in the not too distant future, though more slowly than the government would like," Sargeant says. (Britain's 3millionlives campaign aims to attract three million long-term care patients to telemedicine technology by 2017, but it's an unfunded mandate and questions about how to deliver services have been left to local authorities.) "It's been talked about for a long time, but I think we're finally at a tipping point."

To Realize Savings, Bring Telemedicine to the Masses

Few deny the role that telemedicine can play in improving healthcare. It's spreading, too. Even now, with reimbursement and licensing questions still unanswered by federal legislation, 10 million Americans benefit from telemedicine, Linkous says. Many, for example, may not realize that one in 10 intensive care unit beds is monitored by an offsite teleICU.

Growth will continue. According to research firm InMedica, worldwide use of wireless remote monitoring devices is expected to increase six-fold by 2017, with the majority of users being monitored for chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or mental illness following a hospitalization.

Meanwhile, researchers at Indiana University have found that artificial intelligence improves patient outcomes by simulating treatment paths and making adjustments as additional information becomes available. This type of mathematical modeling made it possible to identify more possible outcomes than a doctor could, researchers found.

However, the key to successfully using telemedicine isn't in the latest technology, or even in expanded broadband Internet connections, which the Federal Communications Commission continues to make a priority and which Sargeant says is important to the United Kingdom as well. As Linkous puts it, you may be using a fancy digital stethoscope, but "it's still a heart with basic, fundamental issues that you need to recognize and treat."

When telemedicine adoption hurdles pop up, Broderick suggests, they are 10 percent technology issues and 90 percent human or organizational factors. These include patient engagement, physician engagement, clinical workflows, business processes, return on investment and an overall difficulty in tracking and demonstrating both clinical and financial outcomes. (To that end, the Center for Technology and Aging has assembled an ADOOT Toolkit that outlines these challenges for providers looking to implement telemedicine.)


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