Telemedicine is growing—around the world and here at home. A report released last year projected the global telehealth market would grow at a 13-percent compound annual growth rate, reaching $19.5 billion by 2025. That’s more than triple the $6 billion market value in 2016.
It’s a comprehensive report that covers the expanding definition of telemedicine (or “telehealth”) today. The definition now includes things like wearable wireless fetal monitors, at-home consultations with doctors, and the mobile wellness devices that are gaining favor from employers and insurance companies for managing insurance claims.
The kind of telemedicine we practice at Eagle—inpatient hospital care—occupies only a small niche of the grand spectrum of telehealth as it is defined today. The good news is that in 2018, we grew at an even more impressive rate than the industry.
For Eagle, 158-percent growth in 2018
Now in our 11th year providing telemedicine programs to acute care hospitals, microhospitals and long-term acute care hospitals (LTACHs), we recently announced that 2018 was a year of significant growth for the company, with the addition of 84 new programs—a growth rate of 158 percent over 2017.
Eagle now has 150 programs across 11 practice areas in approximately 100 hospitals nationwide. In addition to programs in general TeleHospitalist and TeleNocturnist care, Eagle operates specialized practices in TeleCardiology, TeleNeurology and TeleStroke Care, Tele-ICU, Tele-ID (Infectious Diseases), TeleNephrology, TeleOncology, TelePsychiatry, and TelePulmonology. In addition, a Tele-GI (gastroenterology) program is in the works.
What do Eagle’s partner hospitals love the most about their new telemedicine programs? According to Dr. Robyn Schertz, vice president medical affairs at Ascension (currently the largest non-profit health system in the country), “Patients really appreciate that they don’t have to be transferred. They can see their family every day. And the way in which the program was accepted by the eight hospitals in our region really astounded us. Patients and physicians have all been on board. The quality of service is excellent.”
Physician shortage not the only driver of the industry’s growth
As we’ve discussed before on this page, the growth of telemedicine programs in hospitals is due in large part to the physician shortage, and to the increasing struggle in rural communities to find qualified physicians, the growth of the nation’s elderly population, and the high percentage of that population suffering from one or more chronic diseases.
But these aren’t the only drivers of telemedicine’s growth. An interesting thought piece in Becker’s Hospital Review last March outlined a diverse range of other factors, like the growth of urgent care as a precursor to the growth of telehealth. “The number of urgent care facilities in this nation grew from about 3,000 to 12,000 over the last seven to 10 years,” the article states. That growth made it clear that healthcare “when and where you want it” at a reasonable cost is what the public demands—and virtual care offers the same advantage.
Another driver cited in the article is the fact that nearly 40 states now have some form of telehealth reimbursement available. In addition, the 2018 Creating High-Quality Results and Outcomes Necessary to Improve Chronic Care Act (CHRONIC Care Act) expands telehealth access to Medicare beneficiaries suffering from chronic illness. Beginning in 2020, Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) will be able to reimburse a variety of telehealth services because of this act.
Part of the budget deal passed by the House and Senate in early 2018, the CHRONIC Care Act has been praised by providers and healthcare professionals for funneling more Medicare money into telemedicine. “We believe this helps move the needle forward on Medicare reimbursement, which remains a substantial barrier to adoption,” said Mari Savickis, vice president of federal affairs for the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives, as quoted in a 2018 article in Modern Healthcare.
Our timing is good
What delights us at Eagle is that our timing is good. The reason we were able to handle such dynamic growth in 2018 is that we were prepared for it. Indeed, the increasing openness by hospitals to consider telemedicine is matched by our ability to respond to the growing number of requests for our services. The Eagle Telemedicine Hospital Operating System (ETHOS), featured in my last blog, is one of the key factors that makes it possible.
ETHOS is a portal that enables our physicians to log into any hospital where they are providing services—at the click of a mouse—and gain access to the hospital’s Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and other resources they need to efficiently and effectively do their jobs. Especially as we grow the number of specialties we provide to hospitals, ETHOS will play an even greater role in helping new specialists come on board without having to fight technology to do their work.
It’s a platform that will help keep us growing right along with the rest of the industry in 2019, and for years to come.