Telehealth and its applications in the healthcare industry have been in existence for the last decade; and despite its obvious value and benefits, telehealth has not reached widespread adoption as was expected.
A study by Tractica, places telehealth video consultation sessions at just 19.7 million in 2014. The same study predicts that telehealth video consultation is poised for strong and stable growth based on key technology enablers such as better video conferencing technologies, increased penetration of connected devices, and broadband adoption. Telehealth video consultations are projected to grow eight-fold to 158.4 million per year by 2020 thanks to expansion in healthcare use cases, deployments, and adoption.
Simultaneously, several market factors are making telehealth more valuable, including physician shortages, rising healthcare costs, the need to serve aging populations, and the number of people living with chronic diseases. This aligns with findings from Polycom’s own survey on Healthcare Technology Innovation 2025.
Polycom’s survey of over 1,000 healthcare workers across the world found the aging population and addressing the healthcare needs of the aged, medical practitioner shortage and chronic disease to be the greatest healthcare challenges expected in the next ten years, globally.
The survey also sought to determine the barriers to healthcare delivery in 2025. These were found to be funding, access to healthcare and inadequate government support. Likewise, Tractica’s study listed initial high costs (similar to funding), reimbursement policy (similar to government support) and resistance to adoption as inhibitors.
The ability to implement and deploy telehealth with scale has never been more critical than right now. Telehealth consultations are not likely to attain their height by 2020 or even 2025, unless barriers and inhibitors are addressed.
Here are some additional observations in speaking to customers, partners and healthcare communities over the past few months:
Technology, in particular video collaboration is recognised to play a vital role in the success of telehealth by allowing healthcare professionals to keep in visual contact with patients more easily and inspect conditions from afar, as well as providing emergency access to expertise.
Because of the maturity of collaboration technology, organisations no longer consider technology per se, to be a major barrier. Instead, business-as-usual (workflow), processes, technology management and technology training are regarded as being more critical. Without integration into existing workflows which will aid adoption, telehealth consultations will likely continue to face resistance from doctors, nurses and patients. Therefore, the operation and adoption of technology is seen as more critical than the technologies themselves.
The presence of a dedicated individual such as a telehealth programme manager or telehealth coordinator contributes greatly to the success of telehealth initiatives by managing resources and bridging the gaps between practitioners, IT and patients.
Scale requirements may vary from just a few users to hundreds and even thousands of participants. Whether large or small, healthcare organisations tend to cover multiple locations, including many remote areas that may not be in top tech shape nor have access to good bandwidth. Organisations are also aware that telehealth has to be simple and cost-effective enough to scale into small clinics, group homes and even individual patient homes for home health.
Consequently, healthcare organisations are looking for a range of solutions that suit the various environments they operate in – be it home health, remote clinics, hospital or group home environments. Ideally, video conferencing solutions should be able to connect web-based, room systems, mobile devices and video phones in the same network seamlessly. And preferably be Open standards to allow healthcare professionals to communicate across any platform and any vendor.
Government support was listed as one of the greatest barriers to the adoption of new healthcare models, in the Polycom Healthcare Technology Innovation 2025 survey. Without the right incentives, both monetary & regulatory, industry behavior is unlikely to change soon or change for good.
With governments or healthcare governing bodies “holding the cards” to monetary and policy levers, it seems that telehealth could scale and grow rapidly if healthcare organisations work closely with them to develop effective models for telehealth implementation.
Funding and cost usually becomes an issue when the value to users or to the organisation, is vague. That’s why it is critical to measure the return on investment for telehealth video consultations. All aspects of telehealth from patient satisfaction and benefit, to practitioner and nurse efficiency, to medical resource allocation need to be measured in order to establish the value of investment.
Once decision makers, policy makers and consumers see the benefit, any reservations with funding and cost fade away.
Other important aspects to measure include the usage, performance and efficiency of telehealth video conferences. Solutions like Polycom RealAccess Analytics provide useful data on utilisation patterns, peak and low telehealth video traffic times, regular users, help IT leaders to measure, track and plan support for a telehealth network that should be fully functional 24/7.
As the Healthcare industry evolves to meet the challenges of an aging population, medical practitioner shortage and a rise in chronic diseases, telehealth will have to overcome existing barriers, in order to enable care teams reach people and patients wherever they are located most of the time – be it at work or home – for better health outcomes in the future.