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Sector spotlight: Telehealth

With the rapid advancement in medical technology and telecommunications in recent years, the Telehealth industry has seen immense growth. Over the five years to 2019, industry revenue is estimated to have grown at an annualized rate of 34.7 percent to $2.4 billion.

Technological expansion has exponentially risen since the turn of the millennium, and especially in the 2010s. The progress seen in high-speed networks and mobile communications has allowed audio and video interface between providers and patients to become a feasible reality. Combined with the advent of cutting-edge medical technology such as wearable devices, Telehealth has become an increasingly reliable option for providers to diagnose, assess and monitor their patients.

Similar to EHR/EMR, there has been pushback from physicians when it comes to adopting and/or accepting Telehealth. However, this has been changing, as physicians are growing more willing to integrate Telehealth services into their practices. According to a December 2018 survey of 800 physicians by M3, 69 percent were willing to use Telehealth – up from 57 percent in 2015. Additionally, reported physician usage of video visits increased to 22 percent from 5 percent in 2015. Of those physicians who had not yet used video visits, 50 percent said it was either likely or very likely that they would start by 2022.

Providers may be forced to accelerate their adoption of Telehealth services in the face of increasing patient demand. The time and convenience associated with virtual consultations is making them an increasingly attractive option for patients, especially in the case of lower-acuity ailments. As the prevalence of Telehealth services increases, here are some trends making the industry an increasingly attractive space for investments and M&A activity:

  • Rising CMS Reimbursement for Remote Care Services: CMS has shown increasing recognition of remote care delivery by decreasing barriers to reimbursement for Telehealth services. In 2018, the CPT code for remote collection and interpretation was unbundled, which increased the amount of billable Medicare hours available for related services. This was followed by the addition of three new CPT codes, in 2019, which expanded reimbursement for remote patient management.  
  • Potential Cost Savings for Healthcare Systems: In a peer-reviewed analysis of Nemours’ pediatric Telemedicine program from 2018, which tracked a sample of 1,000 patient visits over a 2-year period, 27 percent of parents who used Telehealth claimed that they would have opted to visit an emergency department were Telehealth services not available. This suggests significant savings through lower hospital utilization.  
  • Increased Focus on Interoperability: The integration of Telehealth into the existing systems surrounding patient data has proved to be a barrier, but internal and external stakeholders are now addressing this challenge. The ATA, the national telehealth organization, has announced focused initiatives to tackle Telehealth interoperability challenges. In 2018, a consortium of six technology mega-firms comprising Google, Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce, announced its focus on improving the exchange of healthcare data and leveraging this data to improve outcomes at lower costs. With continued innovation in medical devices used for remote care delivery, increased integration of Telehealth could begin to be seen as an opportunity as opposed to a barrier.

Sources: IBIS World; American Well Telehealth Index: 2019 Physician Survey; Modern Healthcare; Care Innovations; Becker’s Hospital Review; HealthLeaders Media

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