Technology has advanced to the point where it is now practical for healthcare professionals to use remote contact to connect with patients and other professionals. It appears that we’ve reached an inflection point, causing the use of telemedicine to increase rapidly. Two new studies show dramatic insights.
Perhaps the most telling is a research letter published in the Journal of the the American Medical Association (JAMA). The researchers analyzed telemedicine visits by participants in a large, private U.S. health plan. They characterized the visits as primary care, mental health, and other. Starting with just over 200 visits (total) in 2005, the number of visits grew to more than 200,000 in 2017, which yields an astounding compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 52%. Telehealth accounted for 6.5 visits per thousand members by 2017.
Telehealth is typically associated with underserved and rural areas, but this study tells a very different story. More than 4 out of 5 patients lived in urban areas. Furthermore, the practice is not just for mental health services. In 2017, primary care visits were by far the most common with more than twice as many visits as for mental health.
A second study reported the results of an American Medical Association (AMA) telehealth survey of member physicians. The survey showed that 15% of physicians are already using telemedicine in their practices for patient interaction. 11% reported using telemedicine technology to communicate with other physicians, such as for a specialty consultation.
Patient interactions were most common for radiologists (39.5%), psychiatrists (27.8%), and cardiologists (24,1%). Telemedicine interactions with other professionals were most common for emergency medicine physicians (38.8%), pathologists (30.4%), and radiologists (25.5%).
Clearly, telemedicine technology has not replaced traditional face-to-face interactions, but it is playing a rapidly growing role in daily practice. This can help make more efficient use of resources — for both healthcare professionals and patients — and save valuable time in diagnosing and monitoring patient conditions.