Are we approaching a ‘tipping point’ in telehealth and telemedicine within 5 to 10 years? While telemedicine (doctor-patient, hospital-hospital video consults) and even telehealth (patient monitoring generally at home) are becoming more common, Drs Eric Topol and E. Ray Dorsey see the tip coming within the decade in their New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM July, subscription required) article, moving from the early adopters to the majority. But there are still substantial barriers: interstate licensing, fragmented care, spotty state and Federal reimbursement including Medicare, wireless coverage enabling mobile monitoring, the future of the doctor-patient relationship, even the potential for narcotic abuse. They also need to move into the private sector. Somewhat misleading are the 2 million telehealth visits counted by the Veterans Health Administration; it includes the larger programs in store-and-forward information transfer and clinical video consults versus in-home telehealth.
Three trends they see paving the way to ubiquity:
- Moving beyond providing access to being driven by convenience and reducing cost
- Not just for acute conditions, but for monitoring chronic and episodic conditions (although vital signs monitoring, which is the core meaning of telehealth, has been doing so since the early 2000s)
- Migration from hospitals and satellite clinics to in-home and mobile applications
While the two doctors caution on risks, including breaches, they see telemedicine and telehealth increasing the delivery of care in the next ten years and spreading globally. Healthcare Informatics, Qmed