Telemedicine’s still-sluggish adoption in health systems revealed in survey of health system executives

Sage Growth Partners, a Baltimore Maryland-based healthcare research and strategy firm, released a study surveying US C-level executives and service line leaders at a variety of larger health systems (integrated delivery networks (IDNs), academic medical centers (AMCs), community hospitals, and specialty hospitals) on their telemedicine use. It combined initial/exploratory qualitative interviews (total N=65) with online quantitative surveys (completed N=98) taken 2nd Quarter 2017.

Have we reached a tipping point? The findings indicated that just over 50 percent (56 percent) had developed in-house telemedicine systems or were already working with vendor/s on implementing telemedicine in their organizations. The study’s definition of telemedicine was broad, inclusive of any technology and programs that connect providers and patients not physically at the same location when care is provided. 

But many of the findings are dismaying:

  • Budgets–limited at best. Most (66 percent) had budgets under $250,000 per year 34 percent committed over $250,000 with most under $100,000, but three-quarters believe those budgets will increase next year. 
  • What it’s used for: Emergency use (29 percent), remote patient home monitoring (21 percent, and non-emergency cases (20 percent). 
  • How many vendors do they want to deal with?: One is quite enough–54 percent prefer a single telemedicine solution across the continuum of care (however defined), with 31 percent accepting two solutions. 
  • Has it changed the ‘standard of care’?: Yes for stroke, according to 70 percent surveyed. 75 percent believe it will potentially change the standard of care for behavioral health/psychiatry, followed by neurology (53 percent), primary care (52 percent), and cardiology (48 percent).
  • What about direct-to-consumer telemedicine?: The top must-haves are EMR integration, appointment scheduling, and store-and-forward messaging (60+ percent). What’s surprisingly not so desired: store-and-forward of images (47.9 percent–so much for home wound management) and vitals capture (45.9 percent–so much for connecting devices to telemedicine).

Perhaps it’s this Editor looking at the ‘glass half-full’ with a ‘Gimlet Eye’, but here we are in February 2018 still having this discussion at the executive and service line levels. The progress has been glacial at best on starvation budgets, yet telemedicine vendors are multiplying. What is also not promising: these executives’ preference for enterprise solutions which preclude small, innovative companies from getting past the pilot or trial phase. Another barrier: the insistence upon EMR (EHR) integration, which sounds appropriate except that Cerner and EPIC are ‘walled gardens’. Defining Telemedicine’s Role: The View from the C-Suite (PDF, free download from Sage). Also Clinical Innovation + Technology and Global Healthcare 

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