A new survey of healthcare IT executives shows slow growth in adoption of telemedicine technology, but confidence in the use of the technology to fill gaps in patient care is rising, says an analyst for the organization that conducted the research.

The survey of 267 healthcare IT executives conducted by HIMSS Analytics shows modest growth in telemedicine adoption, to 57.7 percent in 2015 from 54.5 percent in 2014.

“That’s not a huge swing in usage,” acknowledges Brendan FitzGerald, research director at HIMSS Analytics. However, at the same time, he adds that the “level of uncertainty around people using telemedicine solutions from one year to the next has dropped pretty nicely.”   

This is the second year in a row HIMSS Analytics has conducted its survey, which the organization calls “an optimistic view of the U.S. telemedicine market.” The 2015 Telemedicine Study concludes that the “decision to implement telemedicine technologies by provider organizations appears to be driven by a need to fill gaps in patient care.”

Also See: Hospitals, Physician Offices Remain on Fence Regarding Telemedicine

Based on results of this year’s survey, FitzGerald argues that “people are becoming more familiar with the technology that is available to them and are more certain of what it entails.” When it comes to the most commonly used form of technology, 70 percent of respondents who use telemedicine indicated that they use two-way video​ to meet their needs.

Not surprisingly, a recent nationwide survey of more than 2,000 primary care physicians found that 57 percent of doctors are willing to conduct video visits with their patients and 69 percent indicated that video is superior to phone or email communication.

Yet, a challenge identified by the HIMSS Analytics study is defining telemedicine, which was recognized by survey respondents to include a wide variety of solutions. “Obviously, telemedicine covers a broad range of product areas within healthcare,” says FitzGerald. According to the study, the number of vendors providing the healthcare industry with telemedicine solutions has grown from 69 in 2014 to 85 in 2015.

“While the data clearly suggests telemedicine is a growing market attractive to vendors, the market penetration data points to a challenge facing this industry; appropriately ‘defining’ telemedicine,” states the study. “The term telemedicine is recognized by the survey participants to envelope a wide array of solutions. Historically, no one solution/service has emerged as dominant in the telemedicine space but a shift has begun to occur as organizations have realized the importance of expanding their services, improving care and lowering costs.”

For instance, patient portal or application-focused patient engagement was the second most employed technology—behind two-way video—in use by healthcare organizations to meet their telemedicine needs.

“We’ve seen over the last few years because of Meaningful Use a large increase in patient portal implementations,” FitzGerald says. “What we found in our survey is that on some level they are using it for some telemedicine purposes.”  

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