Combating The Cost Of Flu With Telehealth

by Brodie Dychinco, Cambia

March 2, 2017

This year’s CDC flu map aptly demonstrates how widespread the flu is nationwide. Flu season often peaks in February and March, resulting in over 31 million outpatient doctor’s visits per year, around 200,000 hospitalizations, and bears more than $87 million in economic burden.

Adults age 18-64 are (surprisingly) the most prone, accounting for 60 percent of flu hospitalizations,  yielding a direct impact on businesses with over $10 billion in direct medical expenses paid and over $16 billion in lost earnings.

The bottom line? The flu is expensive, highly contagious, and it’s costing all of us.

Spreading the flu is easier than you think…

While we should all practice good hygiene, this is never more important than in the winter months. In fact the old adage, “Don’t go to a doctor’s waiting room unless you want to get sick,” is true during flu season as a sick person’s cough or sneeze can infect others from up to three feet away.

However, do patients really need to physically walk into the doctor’s office when they’re sick? Not necessarily.

How telehealth can help

Telehealth has been available to rural communities for years. In the age of streaming Netflix and constant usage of cell phones, telehealth gives people the option to access health care in ways more convenient to them. And they’re using it. Telehealth takes many forms, ranging from audio-only phone calls to two-way audio/video webcam conversations. As for availability, 65 percent of hospital respondents say they’ve adopted telehealth, while 34 percent of physician practices have done the same, according to Healthcare IT News. Two-way video/webcam usage increased to 70 percent, making it the most utilized telehealth solution.

Because of this, telehealth is becoming an attractive component of employee benefits plans. Many health plans, eager to provide the best care to their customers, are partnering with telehealth companies as well. This allows patients to schedule a doctor’s appointment in the comfort of their home, office or car, reducing contact with others … and decreasing the risk of contamination.

Effectiveness of telehealth visits

Studies have shown telehealth visits are just as helpful as in person visits. The results of a recent report conducted by Schneider Children’s Medical Center and Sackler School of Medicine affirm that remote visits allow for a comparable, qualitative visit to in-person care. Specifically, the study examined handheld devices and telehealth solutions offered by TytoCare, a company Cambia Health Solutions invested in, that offers tools to collect and transmit ear, throat, lung, skin, heart and temperature data to remote physicians. The goal was to evaluate the accuracy of these tools in diagnosing illness compared to in-person tools, such as otoscopes and stethoscopes.

The study found physicians believed the quality of the information presented to them by in-person and telehealth tools were both positive and equally as effective for diagnosis.

Telehealth can be a useful tool in a patient’s health care toolbox, and can prevent the spread of illness. Telehealth is just what the doctor ordered for those not wanting to catch, or spread the flu. Perhaps patients can consider that before their next office visit.

Brodie Dychinco is Cambia Health Solutions’ General Manager of Convenient Care Delivery.