Telemedicine: A Potential Game Changer for Your Health Care Costs

June 14, 2016

Imagine sitting in the comfort and privacy of your own home and having an appointment with your doctor – through your iPhone. Science fiction? Not anymore. The fact is, telemedicine is one of the biggest advances in health care in the past decade, and the technology is rapidly evolving and improving. The software is better, the Internet connections are faster, electronic health records are more accessible, and mobile devices are everywhere.

But technology isn’t the only thing driving advances in telemedicine. Consumers are demanding more affordable and accessible care, and the health care industry is demanding better regulatory and reimbursement policies.

For consumers, it’s largely about convenience. They’re increasingly visiting neighborhood pharmacies for routine health care services because it’s more convenient than driving to the doctor’s office. Not having to leave their homes at all would be even more convenient, especially for the elderly, disabled, and anyone else who has difficulty traveling to a doctor.

For health care providers increasingly being paid for outcomes, they want the most efficient method of providing care. Telemedicine services can save them money, make more efficient use of the physician’s time, and provide consumers with the convenience they want.

For employers, telemedicine can be a game changer. Consider this: The average cost of an outpatient emergency room visit is $1,570. The average cost of an ER visit for a medical issue potentially treatable by telemedicine is around $900. An urgent care visit is around $155, and a visit to a primary care provider is around $114.

But the average cost of a telemedicine visit? Just $45. Multiply that savings by the number of employees you have and you can see how quickly the savings could add up.

Telemedicine and workers’ compensation

It’s no secret that injured workers have better outcomes if they get care sooner rather than later – and that means lower overall claim costs. That’s been part of the inspiration behind nurse triage services being offered as part of workers’ compensation packages. So telemedicine is already playing a role in how medical care is delivered to injured workers, and its expanded use by your employees could keep them healthier, cut down on injuries and illnesses, and reduce your medical-related claim costs.

Telemedicine and employee benefits

If you’re not already offering telemedicine as part of your benefits packages, why not? In fact, you should even consider offering it for free. With the kind of per-visit costs charged by hospital ERs and doctor’s offices, even if you cover the full cost of telemedicine visits, you’ll be saving a lot of money.

Hurdles still remain

Unfortunately, you won’t see the big cost savings until employees more fully embrace telemedicine, which they have been slow to do. It’s still relatively new, and many consumers are still unsure about which medical issues are appropriate for telemedicine. But with more employers getting onboard and offering telemedicine services, that’s expected to change.

Reimbursement rates and regulations have also held telemedicine back. Almost 30 states still don’t allow reimbursement for telemedicine services, and there are still gaps in reimbursement, practice standards, and licensing across the country. But the health care industry is working hard to change that.

The future looks bright

The telemedicine market is projected to keep growing in the coming years according to the Global Telemedicine Market Outlook 2020, a research study published in 2015 by researchandmarkets.com. Increasing awareness, the implementation of standards for reimbursement, and growing investment in digital health are all playing an important role in that growth.

Contact Heffernan Insurance Brokers today to learn more about how telemedicine can enhance your employee benefit or workers’ compensation program.