According to the nation’s largest health IT industry group, the number of companies offering telemedicine service has almost doubled over the past four years.
In 2011, there were 45 tech vendors offering telemedicine surveys. This year, that number stands at 85, according to Brendan FitzGerald, director of research for Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Analytics.
In fact, growth in telemedicine could be even greater than the report indicates. During an online presentation of the study on the telemedicine market hosted by the Robert J. Waters Center for Telehealth and e-Health Law (CTeL), FitzGerald pointed out that it’s difficult to quantify telemedicine growth because it includes technology such as fitness devices, telephones, and video conference tools.
“I would say, depending on how you view this, not all telemedicine vendors were being tracked in this study primarily because of the definition of telemedicine,” he said.
Greg Billings is the executive director of CTeL. He said that, because no agreed-upon definition of telemedicine exists, it’s difficult for his organization to advocate for telemedicine reimbursement for by private insurers and Medicare.
For the purposes of the study, HIMSS defined telemedicine as the transfer of medical information using a telecommunications technology or a medical device designed specifically for delivering health care services and medical information.
The study also found a slight increase in telemedicine adoption by health care organizations over the past year. In 2014, 54.5 percent of health care organizations used telemedicine. That number now stands at 57.7 percent.
FitzGerald pointed out that even the slight growth shows a growing market for telemedicine.
“What we're seeing are organizations trying to best determine how to use the technologies they have in place,” he said. “The attention is going to telemedicine.”
The most popular use of telemedicine involves video chats between health care professionals and patients. Almost 60 percent of the organizations involved in the study used that model.
Patient portals, or online resources where patients can access their own health care information, were the second most popular telemedicine technology. Almost half (49.7 percent) of health care organizations reported using that model.
FitzGerald said that most health care organizations adopted more than one type of telemedicine service.