From The Herald Sun – DURHAM — For psychiatrist Jennie Byrne, seeing her patients as regularly as she needs to may not always be an option.
Some of her patients are students with busy schedules, while others have long commutes to get to her office in Chapel Hill, so Byrne turns to a Durham-based app called TouchCare that lets her consult with them via video.
TouchCare, which launched a few years ago, has been growing quickly in the field of telemedicine, its CEO Dan Gilbert said, and he expects that by 2017 “engaging with your physician through your mobile device will be a mainstream, everyday practice.”
International business information provider IHS predicts that revenues from the global telemedicine, or telehealth market, will grow to $4.5 billion in 2018, up from $440.6 million in 2013.
IHS also predicts that the number of patients using telemedicine devices will rise to 7 million in 2018, a 1,900 percent increase from 2013.
“It allows you to have that important consistency whether or not (patients) are able to physically be here,” Byrne said.
TouchCare is used by several providers in North Carolina, and has also expanded out of the state to Mount Sinai in New York and Tandigm Health in Philadelphia.
While its executives won’t reveal specific data on number of users or downloads, the company said in an email that “telemedicine is on the cusp of widespread use and adoption.”
In addition to an interface allowing patients to see their psychiatrists on a HIPAA-compliant platform, TouchCare also launched a peer-to-peer feature on the app in 2015 that allows physicians to connect with other physicians for specialist appointments, referrals and networking purposes.
In October, the company added Brad Wilson, president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, to its board of directors.
Byrne said that there are a few concerns with the field of telemedicine that are causing some lag on medical adoption, such as privacy protection.
“I think you just have to be thoughtful about how you use it,” she said, adding that she would not use it if she had not yet consulted with a patient in person. “I see it more as an adjunct with a person you have a relationship with already.”
Byrne said that she does expect to see increased rates of use in rural areas in particular, where access to psychiatrists may be limited.
According to the North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research, access to mental health care is the biggest barrier to recovery for people living in rural North Carolina.
“Telepsychiatry will increase access to treatment across the state, and it may reduce the amount of time patients have to wait in emergency rooms for treatment, reduce the likelihood that patients will have to return to the emergency room for treatment, reduce the number of involuntary commitments to hospitals for psychiatric care, and reduce readmissions to psychiatric hospitals for those with severe and persistent mental illness,” the organization says in a report on telepsychiatry.