Though the concept of telehealth has been around for quite some time, it has only recently gained traction following the burgeoning success of smartphones and rapid development of information technology. Telehealth has now become more recognized as a rapid, technological frontier of healthcare development.
Telehealth itself is the delivery of health care, or other related processes (such as mobile diagnosis, education etc.) using information and communication technologies. Such technologies can range from e-mail, internet to mobile phones. Early, and relatively common, examples include using mobile apps to track blood pressure and sugar levels, as well as exercise and health patterns. There has been a recent shift in focus regarding telehealth, prioritizing its potential in providing actual, on-the-spot diagnosis for patients.
The nature of telehealth in taking advantage of newer technologies available to us results in a more cost efficient and convenient method of receiving health care, as opposed to the traditional face-to-face consultation with a GP or other medical professional.
The primary advantage proffered by telehealth lies in its ability to overcome distance barriers, a key issue affecting regional communities. However, these benefits are not exclusive to rural areas; urban communities also benefit in the significant time and cost savings offered by telehealth. By breaking down such distance, time and cost barriers, telehealth effectively allows for greater detection of health issues and diagnosis within both regional and urban communities, as people become more willing and able to seek medical aid.
The following chart offers an interesting insight into the various reasons for patient desire for telehealth services. Convenience is a clear deciding factor in preference for telehealth, allowing for patients to receive care in a wider variety of circumstances, irrespective of geographic situation.
However telehealth does suffer from certain disadvantages.
The slide above indicates that 43% of patients displayed resistance to telehealth services because insurance would not cover their costs. However, due to the significant growth of telehealth and its clearly defined benefits, such attitudes have begun to change with a 27% increase in number of Medicare telehealth claims submitted, and a 25% increase in payments.
Though the amount paid out by Medicare for telehealth services is still miniscule proportional to the total costs of the program, the increase does offer an insight into growing acceptance surrounding telehealth as a genuine form of health care. Furthermore, most issues lay in concerns surrounding insecure data and internet connections. As these are issues with a rapidly developing technology, such uncertainties may be expected to be remedied as the strength and robustness of the internet and communication technologies improves. In addition, there is certainly a risk of misdiagnosis that is carried by telehealth. Though misdiagnosis is not unheard of in traditional medicinal practice, the nature of telehealth as an emerging and relatively new sector may lend it greater vulnerability to technological errors. It is also much easier to denounce telehealth if such errors do surface, again due to the vulnerable nature of the sector as it develops.
However, the issue of losing personal relationship with health care providers, though less prominent than the other problems, offers the greatest concerns. There is a degree of human connection and emotional understanding lost when a patient is communicating with or through a machine, as opposed to in person. This is an issue that neither the development of technology, nor a growing acceptance of telehealth, can remedy; it lies intrinsic to the nature of telehealth itself (i.e. the use of communication technology to substitute the need for a personal, intimate discourse with a health care professional). When discussing sensitive and emotionally charged health issues, the lack of such emotional support may instead lead to a slew of psychological issues, of which this article will not delve into too much depth.
Throughout the course of this article, there has been extensive mention of the growth of telehealth in a social and community context, garnering greater acceptance. Financially however, this aspect of growth has transferred into significant market growth of telehealth since 2010, displayed in the infographic below.
ResApp Health Limited is a perfect example of the recent explosion in interest surrounding the telehealth sector. In brief, the company presides primarily upon their pioneering diagnosis technology, allowing diagnosis of multiple diseases and ailments simply when a patient coughs into a smartphone microphone. Though pending FDA approval in the United States will prove a key turning point to their success, the firm has already enrolled over 1,500 patients for clinical trials across several hospitals in the United States.
The tremendous growth in the stock’s share price offers a prime example of the growing acceptance and interest surrounding telehealth as an emerging sector. Two years ago, in July 2015, the stock price settled at around 2c per ordinary share. Yet in just over a year, the price per ordinary share hit 55c, a 2750% growth. Following this, there was a retrace to levels at around 33c per ordinary share, which is still a staggering increase upon the share price in 2015. Though growth of this level is often characteristics of such ‘penny stocks’, it serves as a significant example of the growing prevalence of telehealth in the minds of investors. This growth has also occurred prior to RAP’s technology becoming commercially available, reflecting optimistic sentiment as to the potential of telehealth sector in the future.