April 17, 2014

Once enmeshed in legal and insurance finger pointing and questions about reimbursement, telehealth is flourishing in the era of Obamacare, cost cutting, and consumer-driven healthcare.

Telehealth will generate $2 billion in the US by 2018, Forbes reported. Worldwide, revenue for telehealth products and services is expected to reach $4.5 billion in four years, compared with $440.6 million in 2013, according to IHS Technology.

Sources of growth include busy individuals who prefer the convenience of a video, phone, or other virtual consultation, as well as healthcare providers that use telehealth to augment traditional care. Today, 42% of hospitals use telehealth, according to Health Affairs. Some employers offer telehealth as a benefit. Insurers increasingly incorporate this coverage to decrease the likelihood customers will unnecessarily (and expensively) visit an emergency room.

[ Google Glass: Insurance's Next Killer App. ]

Two years ago, Online Care Group operated in only seven states, said Dr. Peter Antall, a pediatrician and medical director for the telehealth provider, in an interview. Today, the physician-owned organization serves patients and prescribes in 38 states and sees patients without prescribing in eight others -- growth he attributes, in part, to Obamacare and its focus on cost-cutting, population health, and patient experience.

"Ten years from now it won't even be called telehealth," says Dr. Antall. "It will no longer make sense for a consumer of a high-deductible plan to go to the ER for pink eye."

[ Read the rest of this article on InformationWeek. ]