The global telemedicine market is expected to swell to $130.5 billion by 2025 as more clinicians across all ages embrace the technology, a new report found.
The projection marks a steep increase from the estimated $38.3 billion valuation last year, with the number of doctors who self-reported telemedicine as a skill doubling from 2015 to 2018, according to Doximity, a professional network for physicians that features more than 70% of all U.S. doctors. While more than half of job-seeking doctors ages 31 to 50 were interested in telemedicine positions, 41% of those over 50 also showed interest.
"We know there is an explosion in the overall use of telemedicine, with the assumption that it is mainly going to be young doctors," said Christopher Whaley, an assistant adjunct professor at the University of California at Berkeley and lead author of the report. "We actually found that across all age categories, the proportion of doctors interested in telemedicine was relatively equal."
Around 28% of physicians ages 31 to 40 responded to a telemedicine job posting compared to 17.6% of those ages 61 to 70. Nearly 70% of the doctors who responded were full time, followed by nearly 18% who were in their residencies.
Related research found that telemedicine patient visits increased by 261% each year between 2015 and 2017.
"This shows that the growth in patient demand will be met very well by all types of doctors," said Dr. Peter Alperin, vice president of connectivity solutions at Doximity.
Radiology, psychiatry, internal medicine, neurology and family medicine were the most engaged with telemedicine job postings while anesthesiology, general surgery, orthopedic surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, and oncology were the least.
The technology used in part to monitor patients remotely and virtually connect them to doctors has been touted as a means to expand access to hard-to-reach individuals. But it requires significant investment, the proper licensure, robust infrastructure and broadband coverage.
Telemedicine has faced reimbursement hurdles, although Medicare is starting to expand coverage, which has catalyzed more private insurers.
The Federal Communications Commission unanimously voted to move forward with plans for a $100 million pilot program that would help providers finance the broadband costs of bringing telemedicine to low-income Americans and veterans.
Also, nearly 40 states have passed telemedicine parity laws that require insurance companies to pay for telemedicine services.
"Medicare is loosening the reins, but there is still not complete reimbursement for potential modalities," said Pamela Hepp, an attorney at Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney who specializes in telemedicine.
Still, providers must be careful not to neglect their broader mission and other services when investing in telehealth, she said.
"I would not hang my hat completely on telehealth," said Hepp, adding that there isn't unanimous approval from physicians and staff and that it shouldn't replace all face-to-face services. "You have to have buy-in first and then roll it out. There needs to be a balance from the standpoints of efficiency, quality and access."