Telehealth is on the rise, with about a third of healthcare providers already using remote patient monitoring and video-based services to promote long-distance clinical health care.

But what does telehealth mean for the cost and efficacy of health care? As companies embrace new technology-based care models, a review of the literature finds that telehealth interventions also produce positive patient outcomes.

Defining telehealth

Despite being used interchangeably with telemedicine, telehealth is typically a broader term. Telemedicine is considered the clinical application of technology, while telehealth expands beyond traditional diagnostic and monitoring activities to include consumer and professional education. defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.” Companies providing telehealth services typically fall in to one of four categories: mHealth, remote patient monitoring, store-and-forward care and live video.

The business case for telehealth

Telehealth’s value proposition has improved as healthcare evolves toward value-based care incentives from limited fee-for-service reimbursements. “It’s more efficient for high cost and limited clinical staff as well as other onsite resources, while making it more convenient and timely for patients to receive their care,” explains Richard Bakalar, MD, managing director and member of KPMG’s Global Healthcare Center of Excellence.

In a recent article, HealthcareIT News asked 11 top telehealth platforms to explain how their services work and why they are seeing a surge in telehealth interests. “We’ve had more telehealth visits during the last year than in the nine previous years combined,” Katie Ruigh of American Well explained. American Well offers telehealth visits by video and phone, supporting patient-to-provider, provider-to-provider and multi-party video visits as well as service lines and practices that enable healthcare organizations to customize the telehealth experience for their providers and patients.

American well is just one of 147 C-suite, IT and clinical leaders recently surveyed by KPMG and HIMSS Analytics. The survey found that 31 percent of healthcare organizations use video-based telemedicine surveys, with another 44 percent planning to add these services.

Telehealth companies like American Well are attempting to help healthcare providers gain a stronger expertise with their technology solutions, which range from remote consultations to virtual clinics and quality assurance reviews. Other leading companies that spoke to HealthIT News include Avizia, Carena, Doctor on Demand, MDLive, Philips, Polycom, Sherpaa Health, SnapMD, Teladoc and Zipnosis.

Evidence for clinical outcomes

While businesses have found that technology can create efficiencies by removing the constraints of geography in healthcare, what does this mean for patients? A growing body of research finds that various telehealth interventions produce positive outcomes.

A 2016 technical brief for the US Department of Health and Human Services reviews existing evidence about telehealth. The reviewers found a large volume of research showing that telehealth interventions are effective in three specific scenarios:

  1. Remote patient monitoring for patients with chronic conditions like cardiovascular and respiratory disease
  2. Communication and counseling for patients with chronic conditions
  3. Psychotherapy as part of behavioral health.

“The most consistent benefit has been reported when telehealth is used for communication and counseling or remote monitoring in chronic conditions such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease, with improvements in outcomes such as mortality, quality of life, and reductions in hospital admissions.”

While research-based evidence is strongest for remote patient monitoring, communication and psychotherapy, telehealth is creating efficiencies across healthcare. From call centers to stroke assessment monitoring or virtual point-of-care management systems, providers are embracing telehealth as a way to make healthcare more efficient and effective.

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