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By Alex Ruoff
Nov. 17 — The number of companies offering telemedicine services has nearly doubled in the past four years, the head of research for the country's largest health IT industry group said Nov. 17.
The number of technology vendors offering telemedicine services grew from 45 to 85 between 2011 and 2015, Brendan FitzGerald, the director of research for HIMSS Analytics, said during an online presentation.
Growth in the telemedicine industry over the past four years could be even greater than HIMSS is reporting, FitzGerald said. He said telemedicine is difficult to define because it incorporates video conference tools for health-care providers, telephones and possibly fitness devices.
“I would say, depending on how you view this, not all telemedicine vendors were being tracked in this study primarily because of the definition of telemedicine,” FitzGerald said during an online presentation of a study on the telemedicine market hosted by the Robert J. Waters Center for Telehealth and e-Health Law (CTeL).
Greg Billings, executive director of CTeL, said the definition of telemedicine is difficult to pin down and complicates his organization's efforts to advocate for great reimbursement for telemedicine services by Medicare and private insurers.
The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) in September published a study of the telemedicine industry and use of the technology by health-care organizations. For the study, HIMSS defined telemedicine as the transfer of medical information via a telecommunications technology or specifically designed medical device for the purpose of delivering health-care services and clinical information.
The study found a small increase in telemedicine adoption by health-care organizations, from 54.5 percent in 2014 to 57.7 percent in 2015.
While the increase was only slight, FitzGerald said it showed a growing interesting in the technology.
“What we're seeing are organizations trying to best determine how to use the technologies they have in place,” he said. “The attention is going to telemedicine.”
The most popular telemedicine programs are “hub and spoke models,” video chats between health-care providers and patients at originating sites. Nearly 60 percent of the organizations studied by HIMSS used this model.
Patient portals were the second-most popular telemedicine technology, with 49.7 percent of organizations using it.
Most health-care organizations use more than one type of telemedicine technology, FitzGerald said.
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