A growing number of employers are adding telemedicine to their arsenal of health-care cost containment tools. The number of Americans who received remote medical care last year, however, remained small, about 15 million.
Clearly, there’s room for growth. The good news is that the health care industry is either ready or gearing up for it. More than 60 percent of health care institutions already use some form of telemedicine, according to a recent Health and Human Services Department report.
Telemedicine won’t ever completely replace face-to-face health care, especially for more serious medical issues. But the cost-savings for health problems that are more easily managed can be significant. A recent study of employers with at least 1,000 employees found companies could save up to $6 billion per year if more of their employees turned to telemedicine.
The rise of mobile devices such as iPads and video platforms such as Skype has, of course, helped speed up adoption of long-distance consultations between doctors and their patients.
Here are four of the advantages of using telemedicine:
1. Remote access. With telemedicine, doctors can reach patients in remote, rural and underserved areas where there might not be an available doctor or hospital. Patients using telemedicine platforms can access doctors for routine visits, health assessments, diagnostics from a specialist, even emergency care.
2. Specialist availability. Even when patients live in areas with plenty of doctors and hospitals, specialists for rare health conditions may not practice in the area. Telemedicine enables patients in both rural and urban areas to connect with specialists who may be hundreds of miles away.
3. Saving time and money. Patients save money for routine and specialist care because they don’t have to pay travel expenses for distant doctors and don’t have to take excessive time off work to travel and then sit in a waiting room. Doctors are also more efficient in the number of patients they can see in a day, which can help reduce overhead and related costs. In addition, remote monitoring can help lessen the much larger cost of long hospitalizations or in-home nursing, and it may reduce the cost of managing chronic conditions. Remote monitoring can also help prevent hospital readmission by properly supervising care following a patient’s discharge from the hospital.
4. Convenience. For some patients, the comfort and convenience of consulting with a doctor from the comfort and safety of their own homes is a tremendous advantage. The convenience can also improve care. For example, whereas patients might forget to bring medications with them to a traditional office visit, when patients are at home they have ready access to the information necessary for the doctor to diagnose and prescribe. Also, because the patient is at home, it is often easier to take notes or even include a family member who can help retain important information from the doctor.
The use of telemedicine is expected to swell in the next couple of years. Already, 30 states and the District of Columbia require that private insurers cover telemedicine the same as they cover in-person services. Many other insurers cover at least some telemedicine service – and many more have expressed interest in expanding their telemedicine coverage.
Storma McMurry is an Employee Benefits Account Executive at CCIG. Reach her at email@example.com or 720-212-2069.
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