Unleash telemedicine's potential to reduce healthcare costs

July 21, 2015

Recent reports suggest that many urgent care and primary care visits could be conducted as a virtual consult.

BrownAs has been the case with numerous other health technologies that have come about in recent years, many payers and providers are asking: Is telemedicine here to stay?

The answer is yes. For healthcare providers, a strong telemedicine program can broaden access and set the groundwork for a fully integrated program that is aligned with other system-wide priorities. For payers, it can reduce healthcare costs without jeopardizing quality.

With more than 62 million Americans lacking a primary care provider, and approximately 80% of emergency room visits resulting from a lack of access, telemedicine is perfectly situated to help provide a solution.

Related: Telemedicine is poised for growth

Recent reports suggest that many urgent care and primary care visits could be conducted as a virtual consult. A 2014 report from Deloitte, for instance, predicted that 75 million out of the average 600 million general practitioner appointments would occur through electronic visits (e-visits) in the U.S. and Canada in 2014. The savings from these e-visits could be large, at a projected $5 billion for 2014, according to the report.

While some providers may fear that virtual care could cannibalize other volumes, it is imperative to consider the downstream benefits and savings. Telemedicine often saves organizations money because less complex conditions are treated virtually, freeing physicians to spend more time focusing on more complex cases, face-to-face, with patients.

Another area of opportunity for cost savings is found within the employer care space. Over 80% of employers say they could be offering telemedicine services by 2018, according to Towers Watson.

With the increase cost of even providing health insurance, employers are searching for areas to cut unnecessary cost. This involves the roll-out of population health strategies and analytics to better understand the health status of their employees.

By utilizing telemedicine, employers can create capacity for more access, without having to make any large capital investments. Many individuals still utilize their emergency department for all of their health needs, and virtual care can help to steer those patients to more appropriate care, while also bringing them in for follow-up primary care that might be needed.

 

NEXT: A new healthcare consumer

 

A new healthcare consumer

For providers, telemedicine presents the opportunity to attract a new type of healthcare consumer. Younger patients, (ages 18 to 35), who often utilize health services in the retail space, may be attracted to organizations that offers virtual care.

This may help those organizations bring young adults into their care system rather than losing them to the local retail clinic. Down the road, these consumers' health service needs may increase, and now they have had a firsthand experience with your providers and are likely to return.

Related:Consumerism increases retail opportunities and access to coverage and care

Consumers that are most attracted to telemedicine in the urgent-care space are likely tech-savvy young adults, busy parents, and business travelers. Telemedicine appeals to these individuals because they can access care when they want it, and how they want it, at a reasonable price.

Virtual visits tend to cost just below the normal co-pay for an urgent care visit, and well below emergency room co-pays. As consumers continue to get more comfortable utilizing technology for day-to-day activities, the growth will explode.

Tyler Brown is senior project manager at Florida Hospital