As we reflect upon how the health care industry has changed in 2015 and what we expect to see in 2016, there is one area that stands out as having great promise for continued growth—telehealth.
- There were more than 200 telehealth-related bills introduced in 42 states in 2015, many of which helped to encourage the growth and expansion of telehealth. More than half of the states now have laws that mandate some degree of coverage of telemedicine programs by private payers. In addition, nearly a quarter of the states have joined the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, which provides a more streamlined licensure process for physicians who are located in a “Compact state” and who provide telemedicine services to residents of another “Compact state.” In 2016, we expect even more states will adopt laws to require health insurance coverage for telemedicine services and ease the licensure requirements for health care professionals who are engaged in multi-state telemedicine programs. See our article, “States Begin 2016 with the Expansion of Telehealth Services,” for additional details.
- There has been a marked increase in consumer investment in personal health and wellness, partly as a cost reduction strategy in light of high-deductible health plans, over the past few years. Consumers are particularly excited about the possibilities of telehealth, which has spurred the expansion of direct-to-consumer telehealth programs. In 2016, we anticipate an increase in the number of consumers who use telehealth services, as well as an increase in the types of telehealth technologies used.
- An increasing number of employers—ranging from big to small—offered telemedicine as a benefit to employees in 2015 in an effort to reduce health care costs and as a means of improving employee health. Given the broad breadth of coverage included in the cost of employer-sponsored coverages, and the desire for employers to improve employee health to increase productivity and satisfaction levels, we anticipate that even more employers will turn to telemedicine as a solution in 2016.
- The telehealth programs of accountable care organizations (ACOs) and clinically integrated networks (CINs) proved to improve patient access to care (particularly in the area of behavioral health) and deliver quality care at a lower cost—a critical imperative in the post-Accountable Care Act era of value-based purchasing. The realization of these benefits in 2015 will likely contribute to an increase in the number of ACOs and CINs using telemedicine as a tool in 2016.
- There was a marked rise in 2015 in the number of partnerships between U.S. health care providers and international institutions for U.S. physicians (particularly in certain orthopedic and oncology sub-specialty areas) to provide consultations to international physicians about their patient cases, as well as “second opinion” programs where U.S. physicians review the medical records and diagnostic tests of patients located abroad, and then render a second opinion to that patient. We anticipate that these international telemedicine arrangements will continue throughout 2016 as U.S. providers search for ways to expand their patient base and grow their brands internationally.
If these telehealth trends continue in 2016 as anticipated, there is reason to remain optimistic that providers, patients, and entrepreneurs will continue developing and using telehealth in a way that positively changes the U.S. health care industry.