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Telehealth used to be something few people knew about or understood. But it's fast taking its place as a major aspect of healthcare, according to experts at the eHealth Technology Crossroads Conference, held on Nov. 27 in Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), who spoke on a panel discussion on telehealth, said this segment of the industry is growing by leaps and bounds and is poised to double in size in the next few years.
When he began working in telehealth in 1993, he said, stakeholders would say, "Any day now, telehealth will turn the corner."
"The corner has come and gone, and we never even noticed," he said. "Telehealth is a mature industry now.
"The time is right," for telehealth to grow, Linkous said. "Over the next year, you are going to see some very important people joining the telehealth bandwagon."
While telehealth has been emphasized in rural areas, where access to healthcare is difficult, it's now on the radar of healthcare CEOs in all parts of the country, Linkous said. It has also attracted the interest of large payers, several of which will be making "some interesting announcements" about telehealth, he said.
According to Linkous, remote monitoring is used by 200,000 patients nationwide, and is used to monitor 1 million cardiac patients a year and provide 400,000 virtual visits this year to mental health patients via Skype.
He said 80 percent of patients being treated for neurologic diseases are currently monitored outside of a hospital, and that almost every major neurologic healthcare organization is "on board."
"This is a real industry, making real money," he said. "It's an exciting time to be in telemedicine, and I thought it was back in '93."
Peter Levin, chief technology officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the VA is using telehealth to focus on mental healthcare. Since last July, the VA has used instant messaging in a suicide prevention program to reach 6,000 vets and keep them online during stressful situations, until help can arrive.
The VA is also using telemedicine on oncology follow-up care.
Ultimately, it's about a patient's peace of mind, said Levin. "That's why we do what we do."
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