Survey shows growing number of organizations in expanding telemedicine

By Laura Lovett
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The Foley Telemedicine and Digital Health Survey revealed more interest and use of telemedicine amongst health organizations. The survey was conducted by Foley & Lardner LLP, a law firm with a telemedicine team. 

In 2014, 87 percent of survey respondents reported that they did not expect most of their patients to be using telemedicine by 2017. However, this year three-quarters of respondents reported that their organization either offers telemedicine options now or plan to offer telemedicine services. Of those, 53 percent said they were looking to expand. 

The survey went out to more than 100 senior hospital executives, speciality clinics, ancillary services, and related organizations. 

The future of telemedicine could be moving to an international focus, according to the survey results. Currently 22 percent of responders reported offering international telemedicine. That number may soon jump as 32 percent said they are interested in expanding internationally. Of that group, 80 percent said they plan to roll out an international program within the next three years. 

But organizations hoping to launch international programs could face a different set of hurtles. The survey cites legal and regulatory compliances issues as a challenge to navigate. The issues could also include complications arising from a tangle of foreign and domestic legal regimes, complicated tax rules and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act requirements, according to the survey overview. 

The US Department of Defense plans to kickoff its international program this year by providing telemedicine to personnel and beneficiaries living in Europe, noted the Foley results. 

Despite the growing use of telemedicine, providers remain cautious about bringing in services to provide augmented human providers. Currently, only 10 percent of survey takers reported using research-assisted services to augment human providers. When asked about the greatest opportunity for AI, 34 percent of responders said it was population health, 23 percent chose reduction of administrative burdens and 18 percent said patient diagnosis. 

In 2014, physician buy-in was ranked as a major concern by 39 percent of responders; that number fell to 32 percent this year, according to the survey overview. 

Fifty-nine percent of responders said that third party reimbursement of telemedicine services was a challenge. However, the number of reimbursements is on the rise: this year 76 percent of responders reported some or all telemedicine services were reimbursed. In 2014, 41 percent of survey takers reported receiving no reimbursement for telemedicine visits. 

It isn’t just international laws that telemedicine providers need to be aware of but also state laws, which often vary. Currently state laws differ on whether one or both parties must consent to a recording. State laws vary on the need for informed consent for patients to participate in telemedicine. For example, Oklahoma has eliminated the informed consent requirement, based on the idea that patients are capable of understanding that the provider is not in the room with them, according to the study summary. 

While telemedicine is growing in acceptance on a national level, the Department of Defense reported that only around 1 percent of its active duty service members received telemedicine last year, according to a U.S Government Accountability Office report assessment released Tuesday. In 2015 the DOD decided to expand the use of telehealth across the Army, Navy, Air Force, and in the National Capital Region. The research found that in the last year most of the encounter were synchronous, with approximately 11,000 service members receiving at least one synchronous encounter and 2,000 members were involved in at least one asynchronous encounter. The report outlines that of the 30,000 teleheath encounters that the DOD provided to active service members, mental health was the most common. 

The Foley report also noted that mental health services and second opinions were popular telemedicine services.