Wireless remote monitoring devices will be used by more than 1.8 million people worldwide in four years, representing a six-fold increase in adoption of telehealth technology, according to a new study by InMedica, part of research firm IHS.
The study shows that in 2012 caregivers remotely monitored 308,000 people with chronic illnesses.
Of the billions of dollars spent on health care each year, 75% to 80% of it goes for patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma and Alzheimer's Disease, according to Dadong Wan, who leads the health innovation program at Accenture Technology Labs.
The majority of those using remote monitors were post-acute patients who had been hospitalized and discharged and suffered long-term conditions such as congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, hypertension and mental health issues.
According to InMedica, congestive heart failure currently accounts for the majority of telehealth patients, and it is one of the costliest for hospitalization. COPD is second in terms of telehealth patients. However, by 2017, diabetes is forecast to supplant COPD with the second largest share of telehealth patients. Although home monitoring of the glucose levels of diabetes patients is more often done now with personal glucose monitors, there is a push to integrate these monitors with telehealth systems, allowing caregivers access to patient glucose data.
Telehealth is seen as a significant tool among healthcare providers for reducing hospital readmission rates and to track disease progression.
Telehealth devices run the gamut, from blood glucose meters to a wireless cardiovascular monitoring device that looks like a Band-Aid.
Even telepsychiatry, or the use of secure Web-based video conferencing technology, has found a significant following among healthcare professionals.
In addition to post-acute patients, telehealth is also used to monitor ambulatory patients - those who have been diagnosed with a disease at an ambulatory care facility but have not been hospitalized, according to InMedica's study.
However, telehealth is used far more often in post-acute care patients, who are only considered for home monitoring after hospital discharge to prevent readmission. In the U.S., for example, 140,000 post-acute patients were estimated to have been monitored by telehealth last year, compared to 80,000 ambulatory patients.
"A major challenge for telehealth, is for it to reach the wider population of ambulatory care patients," Theo Ahadome, a senior analyst at InMedica, wrote. "However, the clinical and economic outcomes for telehealth are more established for post-acute care patients. Indeed, even for post-acute care patients, telehealth is usually prescribed only in the most severe cases, and where patients have been hospitalized more than once in a year."
Over the next five years, InMedica sees four main drivers of telehealth demand:
Federal policies: Readmission penalties introduced by the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are driving providers to adopt telehealth.
Provider-driven demand: Healthcare providers want to use telehealth to increase ties to patients and improve quality of care. In many cases, this is being done despite no clear financial return on investment.
Payer-driven demand: Telehealth is also being increasingly used by insurance providers to increase their competitiveness and reduce in-patient pay-outs by working directly with telehealth suppliers to monitor their patient base.
Patient-driven demand: There is currently very little demand from patients actively requesting telehealth services from their payer or provider. As fitness awareness increases and consumers adopt personal devices to track their fitness, they will also increasingly seek professional devices to remotely track disease state.