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Parks Forecast Says Telehealth Will Grow Exponentially In Coming Years

Neil Versel Contributor Forbes

Remember a month ago when I discussed the world outside the health IT industry discovering telehealth? I may have vastly underestimated how big it is becoming.

Research firm Parks Associates this week said that video consultations between physicians and patients is about to take off like a rocket. In promoting its upcoming, inaugural Connected Health Summit, the Dallas-based company released a startling forecast. “The number of doctor-patient video consultations will nearly triple from this year to the next, from 5.7 million in 2014 to over 16 million in 2015, and will exceed 130 million in 2018,” Harry Wang, Parks Associates’ director of health and mobile product research, said in a press release.

“The connected health markets are experiencing tremendous growth both in end-user connected devices and on the institutional side,” Wang added, before plugging the conference’s newly announced sponsors. (Interestingly, one of those sponsors is Lowe’s, the big-box home improvement chain, which, according to Parks, has lots of products to sell for the “smart home.”)

That’s more than “tremendous” growth. That’s exponential growth, though forecasts about consumer adoption of digital health technology have been wrong before. Just look at the crowded but largely unsucsessful market for personal health records that has been trying to gain traction with consumers for more than two decades.

Health insurer Aetna’s decision to shutter its CarePass consumer health platform is another example, though usability may have had as much to do with the demise of CarePass as usefulness. Check the consumer reviews of the Apple iOS app on iTunes, with an average rating of 2 stars out of 5. One reviewer was not kind: “The app doesn’t work half the time, and when it does it is way too slow. It is just useless. Great idea, but needs major improvements. The blank screen after login is a pain and you have to restart the app completely, and my information doesn’t update like it should. Waste of time until the app is overhauled.”

Physician-patient video consultations stand a better chance of going mainstream because there is real value to consumers in being able to “see” doctors without leaving their desk or couch. There’s no need to take time off work or travel to the doctor’s office, and such consultations often cost less than full-scale office visits, too, a big plus for those with high-deductible insurance policies.

There seems to be a lot of movement on the latter issue and at least some preliminary activity on the former, so it’s quite possible telehealth will grow 23-fold in the next four years, as Parks is predicting. For once, I’m optimistic about a rosy forecast.