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Telemedicine is taking off: Takeaways from ATA 2017

August 18, 2017
Dan Watterson
From the August 2017 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Dan Watterson

Telemedicine is not new, but it will be the norm before we know it.

This was never more evident than at the ATA2017, American Telemedicine Association’s Telehealth 2.0 conference. Approximately 5,000 industry experts came together to discuss the latest trends and technology in telemedicine and virtual health. Here are a few observations from the conference concerning the rapid pace of telemedicine’s growth.

Consolidation is coming
New partnerships between the large electronic medical records (EMR) companies and telemedicine tech vendors are increasing in number. This trend indicates that the EMR companies recognize the inevitable fast growth of remote care. It further suggests that there will be many acquisitions of these telemedicine software and technology companies in the near future.

Why? Consumers desire virtual health. A 2017 telemedicine survey shows that patients prefer physicians who offer video visits. In fact, their willingness to switch primary care physicians for this service grew from 17 million to 50 million in the two years between 2015 and 2017.

While consumers desire telemedicine tools, implementing the systems and technology for the myriad of standalone devices, smartphone apps, wearables, virtual sitters and remote monitoring can be overwhelming to medical practitioners and administrators. The predicted mergers, acquisitions and partnerships will ease the way for providers and patients alike to collaborate holistically across an organization’s care continuum. In the long run, consolidation will save money and will improve patient care.

Convenience and good care become symbiotic
Telehealth options offer significant benefits to physicians who can outsource on-call requirements and patients who can save time and effort by avoiding the hospital or doctor’s office, especially if they live in remote areas.

Virtual health will eliminate the need for some routine in-person office visits. Telemedicine already has a strong foothold in cardiology, radiology and psychiatry. Yet, a new wave of virtual options goes way beyond heart monitoring, X-ray results and therapy sessions. For example, smartphones that integrate with or double as stethoscopes, glucose meters, fertility monitors and exercise trackers put power into the hands of patients to track their own personal medical data. A few burgeoning examples include remote fetal monitoring in preterm labor cases for women in rural communities as well as access to telemammography for regular breast cancer screenings and to support related cancer clinical trials.

Many patients will count virtual health as a quality-of-life win, especially if they can connect face to face with a medical provider through text, talk or FaceTime-like conversation. Prescription adjustments and refills can be handled anytime, anywhere. Even OBGYN practitioners, whose patients require high-touch interaction, can provide a video visit that keeps a new mom home where she wants to be. Even the discussion of sensitive issues like disease-screening results, biopsies, lactation and depression can be covered in a secure, face-to-face conversation via videoconference. Patients will save time and money by avoiding traffic, parking, babysitters and time off work.

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