by Chris Regal, AHIP Senior Health Research Associate
April 5, 2018
Telehealth is a “game-changer” in health care: It has the potential to make it easier and more convenient for people to access quality care; mitigate provider shortages, especially in rural areas; and save money through less expensive virtual visits.
The promise of virtual care is quickly becoming reality. The following five facts explain why:
1. Telehealth is widely available and popular
One of the key benefits of telehealth is that it can dramatically expand convenient access to care for patients. To what extent do people have access to telehealth? Turns out, it’s a lot.
Nearly 60 percent of large U.S. employers provide coverage for telehealth, and access is growing exponentially. Over the last several years the Department of Veterans Affairs, TRICARE, Medicaid, and commercial health insurance providers have increasingly made telehealth services available.
All 50 state Medicaid programs have some type of coverage for telehealth. While Medicare only reimburses for telehealth services under very strict conditions, there is more flexibility in Medicare Advantage. Pressure has been building to improve Medicare reimbursement for telehealth. For example, the February 2018 budget bill will expand telehealth for Medicare Advantage plans and ease Meaningful Use requirements moving forward.
2. Telehealth can help with a variety of medical and behavioral conditions
Telehealth is a conduit for patients to conveniently access a wide range of services. Anthem, for example, offers members access to wellness and nutrition advice. Cigna covers behavioral health services like counseling, family therapy, and medication management services. And Blue Shield of California encourages virtual visits for various specialties, including cardiology and orthopedics.
3. Telehealth services must meet privacy standards
New and emerging medical technologies often raise questions about privacy and security. The good news is these technologies and platforms have robust privacy policies and security protocols to keep personal health information safe.
The same privacy rules that apply to face-to-face doctor appointments also apply to virtual visits. These privacy and security protocols benefit consumers—for instance, having a virtual mental health visit can happen from the privacy of a person’s home rather than at a doctor’s office.
4. Telehealth saves you money
A virtual appointment costs an average $79. That’s much less than the $146 it costs for an office visit, according to a 2016 study in Health Affairs. By eliminating travel time alone, telehealth can save people hundreds of dollars over a several-year period, as found in a 2017 study.
Using telehealth services to avoid a single emergency room transfer in a rural area can save $1,739 in direct costs and $3,823 in net societal savings. In broader terms, a telehealth-enabled emergency department can reduce unnecessary ambulance transports to urban emergency departments by 56 percent, which puts paramedics back in service an average of 44 minutes faster and can enable them to treat more people in need sooner.
5. Telehealth offers access to high-quality doctors and specialists
Physicians who see patients via the top telehealth platforms—American Well, Doctor on Demand, MDLive, and Teladoc—are board-certified. This means the doctors have demonstrated expertise in their medical specialty. Patients like that they can count on telehealth to deliver quality care, as between 90 percent and 94 percent of patients are very satisfied with telehealth, a Journal of General Internal Medicine study found.
Telehealth is a wave of the future, and health insurance providers will continue to better serve their communities by using this technology to offer convenient access to 24/7 care.