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Telemedicine market growth depends on driving ROI, outcomes

By Mike Moran, Project Editor

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Industry experts peg the worldwide telemedicine market at about $28 billion, with $7 billion of that right here in the United States. And while the annual growth rate of 20 percent isn't too shabby, it could be a lot better.

That's according to panelists on "The Telemedicine Market," a Monday morning Industry Executive Panel that discussed the market's size, challenges, opportunities and trends, among other things.

While telemedicine holds great promise for improving outcomes and reducing costs, a number of factors have inhibited its growth in the United States, said panelists Jasper zu Putlitz, MD, president of Bosch Healthcare; Amnon Gavish, senior vice president of Vidyo; and Harry Kim, senior director of worldwide healthcare strategy and portfolio for HP Enterprise Services. The panel was moderated by Linda Boles, chief strategist for U.S. public sector healthcare innovation for Cisco Systems.

One of the key drags on the U.S. market, the panelists agreed, is adoption by payers and providers. At the moment, they said, there isn't sufficient hard evidence to prove that telemedicine can help control and/or reduce costs and improve outcomes.

"Doctors are looking for guidance and they need evidence," Putlitz said. "We need to show cost savings and mortality reductions. The industry has many studies, but many are contradictory."

That industry must prove that telemedicine can help the United States care efficiently for an aging population and that it can improve outcomes by, among other things, making it more convenient for providers and patients to interact, Gavish added.

Likewise, telemedicine technology is not always user-friendly, and that's a must if large numbers of providers are to adopt it. That most likely won't occur until telemedicine technology can be integrated into a provider's existing infrastructure and become a seamless or holistic component of the clinical process. Once technology "disappears," the industry can focus more on proving telemedicine's value proposition, Kim said.  

The panelists agreed that when it comes to deploying telemedicine, the United States stands a bit flatfooted and is in danger of being left behind by other countries. That's because the U.S. healthcare system is extremely fragmented and slow to change, which makes integrating telemedicine solutions difficult. Additionally, U.S. reimbursement for telemedicine lags behind that in many other countries and continues to hold back the market.

Eventually, these challenges in the United States will sort themselves out and the market's growth will accelerate, the panelists said.

In part, healthcare information exchanges and consumer demand for increased access to healthcare information will help accelerate growth in the U.S. market. Also, as providers become more accountable to drive financial and clinical outcomes, they'll turn to telemedicine to help them do that, Bales said.

"The ultimate goal here is to rise the standard of care, and that is what we are striving for," Putlitz said.

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