There are positions that have emerged with the technology, and these are areas where clinicians can to take on defining roles within the industry.
As the telemedicine industry grows, so do opportunities for physicians—especially physicians who have previous experience with technology. But the industry still faces challenges when it comes to convincing health care providers that telemedicine is as effective as traditional medicine in providing patient care.
A study from Adelphi University found that the number of telemedicine jobs increased 36 percent from 2007 to 2011, while the number of other health care jobs increased only 9 percent during the same period. Nearly half of the hospitals surveyed for the study reported they plan to continue hiring telemedicine positions — the market is expected to increase by nearly 19 percent by 2018.
“It’s a unique industry in the sense that it’s very much a marriage between health care and technology,” says T.J. Ferrante, a health care attorney in the health care practice group at Foley & Lardner, an international firm that focuses on telemedicine, virtual care and digital health.
A December 2016 report on telemedicine from Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration found that nearly half of the state’s hospitals have adopted telemedicine services. However, there is significant uncertainty in what is considered telemedicine because of varying definitions across federal, state and private sectors. Many providers also admitted to a lack of detailed knowledge about telemedicine because of too few educational resources and training opportunities.
Ferrante believes the industry is set to grow at an exponential rate across the U.S., but there is still some inconsistency in how the industry will function in the long term.
“It’s still a very fragmented industry that changes on a state-by-state basis,” Ferrante said. “So the way they practice telemedicine in Florida is different from New York, which is different from Texas or California, but they are starting to sort of unify their approach.”
Telemedicine is not necessarily revolutionary or new. The basic idea has been around for decades, but it has gained acceptance with the advancements in streaming media over the past 10 years.
“The advent of high-speed broadband allows for much better video quality, which allows for physicians to have much better tools,” Ferrante says. “A lot of fear or hesitancy has started to dissipate because I think physicians are starting to realize that the technology is starting to catch up and allow them to do their jobs effectively.”
Physicians have expressed two major fears when it comes to telemedicine, Ferrante says.
First, physicians who are not familiar with the technology are hesitant to believe it can be as effective as traditional medicine. This is primarily due to a lack of empirical evidence; but as more research confirms its efficacy, many physicians who have less experience with technology are beginning to accept telemedicine as an acceptable tool to provide patient care.
Second, there is fear that competition from new services will disrupt thriving business models. Many physicians are protective of the businesses they have worked years to build.
“Any sort of change is always met by resistance, but I think the trend is leaning toward acceptance of telemedicine,” Ferrante says.
While the industry is on the upswing, Ferrante says, it’s difficult to estimate how many jobs that growth will translate to, especially because existing jobs may be replaced by positions focused on telemedicine.
There are positions that have emerged with the technology, however, and these are areas where physicians have opportunities to take on leadership roles within the industry.
Many telemedicine startups are on the lookout for physician ambassadors. These are typically physicians early in careers who have spearheaded efforts to expand telemedicine at their institutions.
“If you are a telemedicine company, the best mouthpiece you can have is a doctor who will be the face of your company as a great way to increase productivity and patient care,” Ferrante says.
Another growing role within the industry is for physicians who are willing to train their colleagues how to use telemedicine technologies.
“A lot of the more junior physicians have just grown up in a tech environment and it’s more intuitive to them,” Ferrante says. “It’s a great way to get a leadership role if you are a more junior physician in a large institution or a hospital system.”
Hannah O. Brown is a freelance writer based in Florida.