Whether you call it telehealth or telemedicine or are just waiting for it to become part and parcel of healthcare, the last 12 months saw a lot of forward motion in the realm.

As 2014 comes to a close, the collective of analyst firms and pundits are waxing predictive on what the new year will hold for telemedicine.

Research firm Kalorama Information, for instance, named telemedicine one of its top 5 health trends for the year that was, while IDC Health Insights gazed ahead in its annual predictions, projecting that some 65 percent of transactions with healthcare organizations will be mobile by 2018, a reality that would fuel telehealth encounters as part of an omni-channel strategy.

Even though telehealth is poised to grow considerably in the immediate future, there are some obstacles to overcome. In a VentureBeat article, Chirag Patel, managing director of Highnote Foundry, an incubator based in New York, outlined three things that need to happen for telehealth use to expand.

1. Virtual diagnosis and on-the-spot treatment are combined: “Mobile-friendly diagnostic devices enable doctors to complete a more thorough diagnosis and provide on-the-spot treatment.,” Patel wrote. “As these devices become more accessible, patient treatment can begin immediately before the patient even gets off the phone, resulting in better outcomes for the patient and the healthcare.”

2. The best in connected devices are used: Technologies with which patients can generate their own data are spreading like wildfire, but so far this data is largely unused by physicians. “By creating a normalized set of patient and care data and by integrating these connected devices, telehealth providers can both lower the cost of care and improve overall patient outcomes,” Patel said. He warned, however, that providers should not rely on a single system or product, but should invest in scalable models capable of integrating data from a variety of devices.

3. Post-treatment care and compliance are provided: This is among the great opportunities for telehealth and remote monitoring: monitoring patients in the first 30 days after discharge to prevent readmissions. “Prevention and compliance should be the real goals of telemedicine and are the way to truly drive significant reduction in costs,” Patel said. “To do this, providers need to understand the patient’s past medical history and also capture all of the new data associated with telemedicine into an electronic record that follows the patient.”

Those are on the technology side. There’s also the little matter of actually getting paid for telehealth encounters. Earlier this year, CMS named 7 new codes for reimbursing services rendered via telemedicine technologies — which will invariably advance things forward.

What else is needed? What will really move tthe telehealth needle?


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