Patients using telehealth services to hit 7 million by 2018

The number of patients worldwide using telehealth services will rise from less than 350,000 in 2013 to roughly seven million in 2018, according to a new report published by IHS Technology.

Additionally, the report estimates that revenue for telehealth services will balloon tenfold, from $440.6 million in 2013 to $4.5 billion in 2018. The report's authors point to the introduction of mobile health hubs and projected growth in wearable technology as catalysts for such growth.

"Amid rising expenses, an aging population and the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, the healthcare industry must change the way it operates," Roeen Roashan, a medical devices and digital health analyst at IHS, said in an announcement. "Telehealth represents an attractive solution to these challenges, increasing the quality of care while reducing overall healthcare expenditures."

A report published last month by Research and Markets estimated that the global telemedicine market will have a compound annual growth rate of 18.5 percent through 2018.

Legislation introduced to Congress in December seeks to establish a federal definition of telehealth and clear up the confusion from myriad state policies. The bill, according to Reps. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), is based on legislation passed previously in California.

In late November, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced changes to Medicare's 2014 physician fee schedule to incrementally expand coverage for telehealth services. Reimbursement has been a primary barrier to the widespread use of telehealth.

In a recent commentary, Stanford medical student Akhilesh Pathipati wrote that telemedicine is "natural" for the next generation of physicians. "Students currently in the medical education pipeline started using smartphones and Skype in high school," Pathipati said. "The same can be said for many patients. Telemedicine can translate that familiarity with communications technology into a meaningful doctor-patient relationship."

To learn more:
- here's the report's abstract (.pdf)
- read the announcement