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Telemedicine Still Tops Health Execs’ Interests, With AI Rising

A survey of roughly 100 health system executives finds that telemedicine and telehealth are still top-of-mind for 30 percent of the industry, and Amazon is seen as the biggest disruptor. But AI is rising fast, and blockchain ... isn't.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- Healthcare executives are still seeing a bright future for telehealth and telemedicine, with artificial intelligence quickly moving up the list of hot topics.

A survey of roughly 100 health industry executives by Utah-based Reaction Data found that 29 percent see telemedicine as having the biggest impact on healthcare. Another 20 percent picked AI technology, while 11 percent selected mobile data.

“Combined, virtual services/telehealth and artificial intelligence accounted for almost half of the responses,” the report noted. “This isn’t surprising due to almost three-quarters of providers indicating they are already using telemedicine. This, coupled with the fact that the patient community is becoming more tech savvy with voice assistants provided by Apple and Android smartphones and tablets.”

“The possibilities of uses are virtually limitless with technological progression, especially at the recent pace of technological advancement,” one chief nursing officer said in the report. “These three (AI, mobile, telehealth), particularly when used in tandem, can analyze and evaluate the status of a patient from anywhere, at any time, and transmit that data back to a provider who can then communicate recommendations to patients on their mobile devices.”

One surprise: Only 2 percent selected blockchain technology, which the report noted “is getting buzz in journals but (is) only on a handful of providers’ radar.” That low percentage could indicate a continued lack of interest in privacy and security issues.

When asked how telemedicine is used now, 24 percent said connected care platforms are employed to reach patients in rural areas, while that same percentage said the technology is most used for follow-up care. Some 23 percent said telehealth and telemedicine are used for population management, such as those with chronic conditions, while 12 percent selected after-hours patient consults.

When asked about the financial benefits of telemedicine, the survey revealed a continuing bugaboo with virtual health: Providers aren’t seeing a monetary return on investment that will convince them to adopt the technology in greater numbers.

Roughly half of those surveyed reported that technology is currently revenue-neutral, while only 14 percent said they’re seeing a positive return on revenue. That same percentage said they’re losing money using telehealth, and 21 percent said they weren’t sure.

Despite that challenging statistic, the report noted that providers are seeing more patients and they’re delivering more cost-effective care, two factors that could improve the bottom line over time. The report also noted that the Cehters for Medicare & Medicaid Services is moving toward more reimbursement for telehealth and mHealth services.

With AI and machine-learning tools beginning to show up in telehealth and mHealth programs, it’s no surprise that healthcare executives see the technology having an impact on healthcare delivery in the future. Some 18 percent said they’re using the technology now, while 11 percent said they’ll deploy it within the year, 28 percent said they’re one to two years away, 25 percent said they’re more than three years away and 15 percent don’t see themselves ever using it.

Finally, healthcare executives see Amazon having the biggest impact on future healthcare delivery, with the company mentioned by almost 60 percent of survey respondents. Apple came in second with 14 percent of the vote, while Google garnered 8 percent, Microsoft 7 percent, IBM 4 percent, Walmart 3 percent and Salesforce 1 percent.

Amazon has a huge market they can use to distribute materials,” one CIO said. “They are already a household name and the users are not specific to Apple or Android.”

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