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A deep dive into telemedicine goals and challenges: Part three

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Steve McGraw, Chief Executive Officer, REACH Health

In Part Two of our series, we discussed telemedicine objectives, keys to program success and the biggest telehealth-related challenges facing healthcare organizations. The information was gleaned from the annual U.S. Telemedicine Benchmark Survey, which compiled insights from hundreds of healthcare executives, physicians and nurses across the U.S.

Today, we’re going to explore the survey findings on the top contributors for reaching return on investment (ROI) with telemedicine programs and look at the maturity status of U.S. programs by care setting and and service line.

Key contributors to telemedicine ROI   

With the healthcare industry striving to find ways to improve patient care while simultaneously lowering costs, telemedicine has been examined as a means to help organizations achieve this ambitious goal. But with any investment comes great pressure to prove ROI.

Benchmark survey respondents shared the key contributors to ROI for their telemedicine programs and the top five results included:

  • Improved patient satisfaction (53 percent)
  • Increased patient referrals (38 percent)
  • Improved reputation (37 percent)
  • Medicare reimbursements (35 percent)
  • Greater productivity from clinicians and nurses (35 percent)

If you remember from our last article, “improved patient satisfaction” was listed as one of the top objectives for starting a telemedicine program. This is interesting because it indicates that patient satisfaction is increasingly being recognized for driving ROI, although the primary motives for improving satisfaction may not be totally financially driven.

“Increased patient referrals” also moved up significantly from its place in the 2015 survey, which is possibly a reflection of an objective to use telemedicine as a patient-feeder system for hospitals in an increasingly competitive environment.

U.S. telemedicine maturity   

The maturity of telemedicine programs varies widely among settings of care and service lines.

In general, those settings that require highly specialized treatments are more mature vs. those where general treatment is typically needed. Not surprisingly, the acute setting (35 percent) ranked as the most mature – defined in the survey as more than three years old. Two notable exceptions were e-visits (6 percent) and primary care physicians (9 percent), more general treatment settings, which have grown tremendously in the last three years.

The survey also uncovered that implementation and planning activities among telemedicine programs across settings, regardless of maturity, were very common. With increased competition for patients, as well as the drive to improve patient experiences and outcomes, this type of growth is natural.

Telemedicine maturity also varies widely across service lines, with stroke far ahead of the pack at 36 percent. The time-sensitive nature of treating stroke patients, plus the urgent need for specialists, were the drivers for it being one of the first service lines to fully embrace telemedicine. Radiology (23 percent), neurology (22 percent), psychiatry/behavioral health (22 percent), ICU (14 percent) and cardiology (11 percent) followed on the maturity scale.

Just like settings of care, telemedicine activity and growth within service lines is high. A part of that is due to the impending clinician shortage, which the Association of American Medical Colleges estimates will be 45,000 primary care physicians and 46,000 surgeons and specialists by 2020.

In our next article for the series, we’ll take a closer look at the enterprise approach to telemedicine, which is being increasingly adopted by U.S. healthcare systems. If you’d like to access the survey in full, it is available for free download here.

 

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