In 1996, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its report Telemedicine: A Guide to Assessing Telecommunications for Health Care. In that report, the IOM Committee on Evaluating Clinical Applications of Telemedicine found telemedicine is similar in most respects to other technologies for which better evidence of effectiveness is also being demanded. Telemedicine, however, has some special characteristics-shared with information technologies generally-that warrant particular notice from evaluators and decision makers.
Since that time, attention to telehealth has continued to grow in both the public and private sectors. Peer-reviewed journals and professional societies are devoted to telehealth, the federal government provides grant funding to promote the use of telehealth, and the private technology industry continues to develop new applications for telehealth. However, barriers remain to the use of telehealth modalities, including issues related to reimbursement, licensure, workforce, and costs. Also, some areas of telehealth have developed a stronger evidence base than others.
The Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) sponsored the IOM in holding a workshop in Washington, DC, on August 8-9 2012, to examine how the use of telehealth technology can fit into the U.S. health care system. HRSA asked the IOM to focus on the potential for telehealth to serve geographically isolated individuals and extend the reach of scarce resources while also emphasizing the quality and value in the delivery of health care services. This workshop summary discusses the evolution of telehealth since 1996, including the increasing role of the private sector, policies that have promoted or delayed the use of telehealth, and consumer acceptance of telehealth. The Role of Telehealth in an Evolving Health Care Environment: Workshop Summary discusses the current evidence base for telehealth, including available data and gaps in data; discuss how technological developments, including mobile telehealth, electronic intensive care units, remote monitoring, social networking, and wearable devices, in conjunction with the push for electronic health records, is changing the delivery of health care in rural and urban environments. This report also summarizes actions that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can undertake to further the use of telehealth to improve health care outcomes while controlling costs in the current health care environment.