the growth of telemedicineThe growth of telemedicine has caused the expected number of patients using telehealth services to rise from less than 350,000 in 2013 to nearly seven million in 2018. It’s no secret that telemedicine has been growing in past and recent years, but what has been contributing to that growth?

Health systems are noticing the biggest impact

The number of reasons for the growth of telemedicine and the number of patients accessing doctors online is too high to count. But the area where telemedicine is making the biggest impact is where it is helping to reduce health care costs. Patients and health systems alike are looking for ways to make health care less expensive and telemedicine has proven to be one solution to the problem. Telemedicine is providing patients with high-quality health care at lower costs. It’s helping to reduce hospital readmissions and wait times in the emergency department, it’s deterring patients from being forced to use high-cost facilities such as urgent care offices or emergency departments when emergency care isn’t necessary, and it helps to better utilize on-site staff for the medical needs that truly need in-person care.

But so are organizations not related to healthcare

In addition to health systems and patients, there are other organizations who are reaping the benefits of telemedicine. You will find that organizations who are offering telemedicine as an added health benefit to their employees see a reduction in health care costs. 90% of large employers will be offering telemedicine in 2017 which shows that it is a proven opportunity to help organizations save money while keeping their employees happy. Companies who are self-insured will especially see a reduction in annual costs by helping their workers avoid urgent cares and emergency rooms. The average cost of an urgent care visit is $200 while the average cost of an emergency department visit is close to $1,000. By taking these numbers and directly correlating them to survey responses received from patients post-consult, RelyMD has seen one of our clients reduce the cost of their health care spend by nearly $60,000 in less than 8 months just by utilizing telemedicine.

In addition to the monetary value, companies are also seeing that they’re increasing productivity amongst employees by allowing them the ability to see a doctor from home or the office. Co-workers no longer need to spend working hours driving to and from an office or waiting to be seen. Also, by having access to a doctor 24/7, they’re more likely to see a doctor for a health concern which allows them to catch things earlier and reduces the chances that they’ll have to take PTO for a sick day vs. saving it for a vacation with family.

More industries are on the verge of massive savings due to telemedicine

The field of telemedicine has unlimited potential where it can expand.

1- Nursing homes – skilled nursing facilities and other long-term care facilities are very focused on keeping their residents within the home by reducing hospitalizations. Many hospital transfers are actually avoidable and not necessary but the facilities lack the resources to properly care for certain ailments due to limited training for staff and the lack of having a physical doctor on-site 24/7. By providing telemedicine to staff members, they can consult a doctor in less than 10 minutes via video for a more accurate reading on a potential emergency, these doctors can also help establish a care plan for those that are deemed non-emergency.

2- Primary and secondary schools often have nursing shortages. Rather than employing full-time nurses for every school building, other members of the staff can help facilitate a doctor visit with a student to determine if additional care is necessary or if they can hold off on calling a parent for an urgent pickup.

3- Universities – you’ve got a huge population of young adults who are technically savvy but are also known for pushing off medical care. Giving them access to a doctor they can see from their dorm room or apartment will allow them to catch things earlier and give their parents relief that their child isn’t skipping out on quality medical care because of the inconvenience. The growth of telemedicine will positively impact students’ and parents’ wallets alike.

4- EMS – Rural communities often don’t have the resources to have their own ambulatory services that cover their wide-spread region, this results in sharing with other counties and increases the length of transport time. By equipping EMS with access to a physician, they can oftentimes treat a patient in their homes instead of initiating a transfer for a hospitalization.

5- Prisons, jails, correctional facilities. They have high costs associated with quality health care, especially when inmates need to be transferred to a physical location. By treating them in place, they reduce the cost of hiring guards and transportation.

The growth of telemedicine is unquestionable, but there are still barriers

1- Reimbursement – not all states have parity that will allow for telemedicine visits to be reimbursed in the same way regular office visits are. This will be ever-changing and I believe we will eventually be to a place where telemedicine is regarded the same, but there are still challenges or workarounds that need to be developed. Currently, organizations who see the value, believe in the strategy of subsidizing all or part of the costs for their patients and employees. The growth of telemedicine will only enhance this idea in the future.

2- Licensing and staffing – there are many different types of telemedicine solutions and providers that exist, but when it comes to health systems wanting to provide this service to their patients they will need to decide whether to staff the platform themselves with their own existing physicians which will require extensive training and does have the potential to overwhelm doctors. The other option is to choose a provider like RelyMD who already has fully trained staff in place as an extension to their existing staff members.

3- Physician opposition – bringing in an additional way to seek care will often leave brick & mortar physicians feeling that their census will be reduced because patients no longer have a need for them. But, that simply isn’t true. The ultimate goal for telemedicine providers should be around continuity of care that ensures when follow-on care is needed, the telemedicine provider can provide that referral to encourage patients to stay within a health system for additional care. This also helps with keeping medical records complete so that as patients move around from online to in-person, to specialists, all of their records remain consistent. White labeled telemedicine apps will also help health systems keep their brand in front of new and established patients and keep the positive telemedicine experience linked with their brand, increasing the chances for patient retention.

Written by Chelsea Raegen, March 27, 2017 

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