Cost-cutting to drive telehealth growth

American healthcare providers are turning to telehealth in large numbers to help cut costs, according to a new report from IMS Research, which projects U.S. medical expenditures increasing to more than $3.7 trillion in 2017. The research firm expects the number of patients using telehealth services to grow by nearly a factor of six from 2012 through 2017.

The United States now represents nearly 75 percent of the worldwide patient population utilizing telehealth, according to IMS. Researchers defined telehealth as the use of medical devices and communication technology to monitor chronic diseases and symptoms that could develop into serious conditions.

With a baseline of 227,400 U.S. patients using telehealth in 2012, that number is expected to grow to approximately 1.3 million in 2017, IMS reported.

The majority of people treated using telehealth are post-acute patients who have been hospitalized and discharged, the report said. Telehealth enables medical professionals to remotely monitor patients for conditions including congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension and mental health conditions.

“The cost of healthcare is a critical issue in the United States, with nearly one of every five dollars’ worth of the country’s gross domestic product going to medical expenditures,” said Theo Ahadome, senior analyst at InMedica, in a statement accompanying the report's release. “Telehealth can help mitigate these costs by reducing the number of patient readmissions and cutting down on in-home care visits. Because of this, the United States is the world’s largest market for telehealth, driving the growth of the worldwide business.”

Healthcare costs in the United States in 2012 accounted for nearly 18 percent of gross domestic product, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. That total is projected to rise to 18.4 percent in 2017. U.S. per capita spending on medical needs in 2017 is forecast to climb to $11,360, up from $8,953 in 2012.

And as enrollees increase, Medicare spending in the United States will increase to $755 billion in 2017, up from an estimated $591 billion in 2012.

“Telehealth can reduce these costs in several ways,” said Shane Walker, senior manager, consumer &digital health research for IHS, the parent company of IMS, in a prepared statement. “For one, telehealth can reduce re-hospitalization, a major medical cost. Readmission penalties are creating federally driven demand for telehealth to slash such costs. Furthermore, telehealth can cut down the number of registered nurse visits for home care, saving in excess of $1,000 per patient.”

U.S. telehealth revenue is set to rise to $707.9 million in 2017, up by a factor of four from $174.5 million in 2012, the report said.