Providers' adoption, understanding of telemedicine grows in 2015

Use of telemedicine continues to see an uptick, with 57.7 percent of providers adopting such tools this year, up from 54.5 percent in 2014, according to a new HIMSS Analytics study.

"One of the bigger things we found was not only the increase in adoption of these telemedicine services and solutions year-over-year, but also from my perspective the familiarity of these solutions; there are fewer people who are unsure about whether they use these types of solutions," Brendan FitzGerald, HIMSS Analytics Research Director, told FierceHealthIT in an interview.

The Web-based study included responses from about 270 C-suite executives, IT professionals, clinicians and department heads, as well as ambulatory physicians.

FitzGerald said that through the study they saw that the sector of technology itself remains fairly complex.

The definition of telemedicine can be used very broadly to refer to a number of different solutions and services, so it could mean use of a two-way video Web camera, but also on some level email usage.

"So, it's very broad in its interpretation, but I think as the market matures, this will become more focused and narrow," FitzGerald said. "But right now it's really covering a lot of things."

One new question asked of respondents included the models and programs they use. HIMSS Analytics found the most widely used model, by about 57 percent of providers, is the "hub-and-spoke" model.

Through this, primary organizations are in the middle and have spokes going out to smaller organizations. For the most part, that is through audio/visual technology going between an originating site and outside sites, according to FitzGerald.

In addition, when it comes to the specific functionality of technologies that organizations use, the most popular is the two-way video Web camera, with about 70 percent of providers who currently have telemedicine solutions using that system, he said.

Another top model is use of telemedicine through a patient portal, which is any service delivered by a portal through mobile or desktop. Organizations increasingly are using more than one of the models, which also include concierge services, such as e-visits and online consulting, and remote patient monitoring.

About 23 percent of respondents said they use two specific models or programs, but very few--3 percent--use all four, FitzGerald said.

As for the biggest uses of telemedicine, FitzGerald said most providers view technology as a way to fill gaps in patient care.

"There was a somewhat sizeable uptick in organizations wanting the ability to offer care services that they don't necessarily have, such as being able to offer specialty services. That was top of mind moving forward," he said. "Future goals for the technology ... they want to develop a service that really tries to increase access and integrates healthcare across rural areas."

FitzGerald also said the number of vendors in the telemedicine space continues to increase--from 69 last year to 85.

"It's the biggest jump we've seen since 2012-2013," he said. "The telemedicine market itself is rapidly evolving, new technologies are coming on and the vendors catering to this particular space are increasing."

To learn more:
- get the study
- check out the executive summary (.pdf)