A recent telemedicine industry benchmark survey published by REACH Health provides great insight into where the industry has been and where it is headed. The survey was conducted among U.S. healthcare executives, physicians, nurses and other professionals. Organizations represented in the survey were diverse and included representatives from organizations with a $1 billion or more in revenue (about a third of respondents), and almost half with revenues under $50 million.

In reviewing the survey report, there were some significant takeaways:

  • Telemedicine is evolving from a specialty offering to a mainstream service.
  • More than half of respondents consider telemedicine to be a top or high priority.
  • Patient-oriented objectives—including improving patient outcomes, improving patient convenience, and increasing patient engagement and satisfaction—are the three top objectives for telemedicine programs.
  • There is an emphasis on better leveraging specialists with a large majority of respondents ranking this a top or high priority.
  • Nearly half of hospital and integrated delivery network respondents who began their telemedicine programs/initiatives with a departmental approach are transitioning to an enterprise approach.
  • The maturity of telemedicine programs varies widely among service lines and settings of care. Generally, settings requiring highly specialized treatment continue to be more mature than those requiring generalized treatment.
  • Telemedicine technology, reporting and analytics, as well as in-house physicians are viewed as highly important to the success of a program, whereas outsourced physician coverage services less so.

Not surprisingly, given that designating a full-time dedicated program manager is correlated to success of a program, the survey notes that a third of respondents now have a dedicated telemedicine program manager. Perhaps more surprisingly, half of respondents report that the accountability for success for telemedicine programs falls to non-clinical administrative managers.

The survey also looked at challenges to implementing programs. Among the top impediments:

  • Lack of reimbursement—both from public and private payers.
  • Challenges related to EMR systems, including the lack of integration between telemedicine and EMR systems and lack of native telemedicine capabilities in current EMR systems.

I should point out that patient acceptance is ranked as one of the least challenging issues for telemedicine stakeholders. Of topical note, the survey highlights the uncertainty felt by respondents with how ACA repeal/replace legislation would affect their telemedicine programs.

All in all, the survey report makes for compelling reading offering fresh insight into a growing and maturing sector. It is clear that many healthcare stakeholders view telemedicine as a top or high priority, and are deploying an interesting and diverse array of telemedicine programs. Unfortunately, many of the same obstacles to wider deployment of telemedicine continue to persist. Interestingly, 70 percent of respondents of the survey participants operate telemedicine programs within a single state—reflecting the legal, regulatory, and reimbursement difficulties in operating multi-state telemedicine programs. Until these issues are effectively addressed, telemedicine is unlikely to fulfill its great potential.