The world is shrinking, metaphorically anyway. Much like today is the oldest you’ve been in your entire life, there has never been as much data, technology and access to innovative products as there is right now. What a time to be alive! At our fingertips right now, we can communicate to each other face to face from different sides of the planet. We can find anything we want on the internet and have our wearable technology upload data to cloud based platforms helping us transform our lives for the better. Exciting stuff but how do we use these tools and this information to help transform our businesses. More importantly how do we utilise these tools to improve patient outcomes, save the government and patients money and bring an all access healthcare system to Australia.
For the purpose of being brief we will focus on the importance of the emergence of telehealth although there is plenty more to talk about.
The first key term to give some perspective on the size of telehealth globally we are going to compare some markets within the medical realm. Lets start by looking at some of the bigger markets in medical.
The Pharmaceutical industry breaking through the $1 trillion (USD) mark is currently growing (cumulative annual growth rate -CAGR) at a rate of 5% worldwide. The medical device industry, globally reaching the $365 billion (USD) market is growing (CAGR) 6.1%. The Medical education market is sitting around $36 billion (USD) worldwide growing (CAGR) at 4.9%. So then we land on telehealth, growing (CAGR) at a whopping 18.3% worldwide although currently only valued at $9.3 billion.
Clearly the market size for telehealth technology, mainly software and hardware, is in a strong growth period due to the increasing demand for services (aging population) and the failure of specialty services to keep up. But this is not the only reason for the rise and additional investment by governments and private enterprises around the world. One of the key focuses for telehealth worldwide is to improve the level of remote patient monitoring. Infrastructure such as the Australian NBN and the eHealth record are steps in the right direction at achieving the right framework to be able to reduce admission lengths and even admission rates to hospitals. That being said, we want to give an overview of the key areas in telehealth and a summary of why they are important and the opportunities available.
- Direct to consumer consultations EG I have an acute problem and book a telehealth consult with a GP online – Currently it does not seem likely that this method of consultation will be subsidised by many governments around the world however it may increase the likelihood of private health funds getting onboard to support due to the documented reductions in hospital visits and much early diagnoses and treatment of chronic and complex conditions. Overall with an increasingly busy workforce and less overall available time to see healthcare professionals a larger scale uptake of these avenues would more than likely result in a lower burden on the government funded health system.
- GP to Specialist consultation – Drastically reducing the amount of consultations required by GP’s and decreasing time until diagnoses and treatment these consultations will play a pivotal role in reducing the burden on the healthcare system. Currently there are geographical consideration and most of the consults are funded based on access to services. Potentially there is greater scope to include these services under a government funding scheme. We also acknowledge that current software does slow down the process and often GP’s and specialists are not falling in sync with schedules.
- In home telehealth post hospital discharge – We can reduce the hospital admission lengths of stay by sending patients home with remote monitoring. The difficulty in this is that we need to tailor the communication based on current internet availability for each patient and the hardware technology based on their specific therapeutic needs.
- Aged care – Here we are not talking about telehealth in aged care facilities but home aged care. If we can fit out homes with the right sensors, self-monitoring tools and communication devices patients can stay in their own homes for longer. We can monitor how often patients are moving around their house, how often they complete their falls prevention exercise programs, changes in physiological parameters (EG spirometry) and consult GP’s from their home. Feros care has some great information in the report on telehealth found in the link below.
In summary the biggest question is where do allied health professionals fit into this puzzle? We think in all the 4 as mentioned above. There are opportunities there awaiting allied health professionals, whether its helping hospitals and aged care facilites monitor falls risk in patients, collaborating on group case conferences with medical professionals or consulting your patients from private clinics post discharge to check up on home exercise programs.
The right time to see where you can fit into the telehealth market is now. Talk to GP’s, specialists, software providers about how you can role out these services from your practice.
We hope you found this information useful. We’ve tried to keep it short so if you want more info there are some links below that provide a lot more detail.