More Study Needed to Prove Telehealth's Worth

Gienna Shaw, April 12, 2011

The field of telehealth is still emerging, and while there's anecdotal evidence of its benefits to care, there haven't been a lot of long-term studies to quantify it. That hasn't stopped organizations from pursuing the model. In the 2011 HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey of technology leaders, 46% of respondents said they have one or more telemedicine programs in place. Another 41% say they'll have one in place in one to five years.

What's driving the technology? The shortage of intensivists, specialists, and physicians willing to take call, for starters. Remote access brings doctors to patients regardless of where they happen to be. Another factor is that the technology itself is advancing so fast.

Remote units have high-definition displays, the ability to zoom right in and take high-resolution photos and high-quality videos, and digital stethoscopes that let docs listen just as well as—or even better than—they can in person.

Capabilities have also expanded rapidly. Healthcare organizations have access to faster and more reliable data networks, and abundant access to mobile devices.

And then there's that anecdotal evidence. Proponents say using technology to deliver care over a distance will improve access, ease physician shortages, create new revenue streams and increase volume for healthcare organizations by expanding market reach, and improve quality of care.

Still, there's that lingering lack of concrete evidence that remote care is significantly better than care delivered in person.

One new study that examined the impact of telemedicine ICU care on mortality and length of stay got a mixed answer to that question.

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