CHICAGO — Telehealth is on its way to becoming a $5 billion industry within five years, said Pager CMO Richard Boxer, M.D., on Tuesday, the second and final day of the inaugural HX360 event at McCormick Place. With approximately 100,000 telehealth consultations performed each month in the United States, Boxer said, these visits only “scratch the surface” of the 80 million that otherwise are achieved.

The technology is there to turn those 100,000 visits into 20 million, Boxer said, but providers and regulators would need to make leaps and bounds — in training and policies — to catch up.

Although CMS’s recent legislative changes are nudging telehealth forward, there is still political resistance — especially in rural areas, said Kathy Hsu Wibberly, director of the Mid-Atlantic Telehealth Resource Center at the University of Virginia.

“There is still some messaging out there that technology is going to replace [providers],” Wibberly explained. Not only is this not the case, she said, but also telehealth can be a boon to rural economies. “The reality is, when rural hospitals adopt telemedicine, they keep more patients than they let go.”

Education is another necessary piece to the puzzle, even for groups that support telehealth, Wibberly added.

“Technology and innovation are growing exponentially, but training and engaging clinicians in this area is not,” she said. “No one is receiving training on how to do mobile conferencing, use mobile apps, etc. That disconnect will result in a generation that has a lot of shiny new toys, but doesn’t use them.”

Patient fears that quality will suffer or care will become fragmented due to remote consultations are concerns, too.

Richard Scholz, chief strategy officer of the Optimized Care Network, says that while these issues easily can be avoided, “it’s up to us as leadership in this industry to make sure that growth is sustainable and that we keep our eyes on quality.”