November 21, 2017
Telehealth can improve affordable access to quality care by removing traditional barriers, such as distance, mobility, and time constraints.
Telehealth has been shown to be as effective as traditional in-person visits for certain conditions with potential for significant cost savings.
Challenges related to licensure and state and federal policy, among others, must be addressed for telehealth services to realize its potential.
The term “telehealth” refers to the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration. Telehealth has the potential to improve engagement between patients and providers, improve health care maintenance, and, in some instances, avoid unnecessary and costly acute care settings, with estimated savings of more than $6 billion annually.2 Consumer groups, providers, and health plans all see the expanded use of telehealth as means to give patients better access to high-quality, affordable health care. Telehealth services make it easy for patients to access care from their computer or mobile device and connect with specialists via secure video or messaging.
Recognizing that telehealth is one of the fastest-growing care delivery services in health care today, health plans are proactively adding telehealth services to their plan offerings. In many cases, health plans are working with independent vendors that have an existing infrastructure and an established virtual network of providers. By increasing patient access to providers through convenient digital tools, health plans hope to improve outcomes while reducing unnecessary visits to the emergency department.
Whether to augment existing provider networks, enhance convenience and accessibility for patients, or save time and resources, many health care stakeholders are optimistic about the potential for telehealth to deliver quality, cost-effective care to patients. Patients in rural areas, seniors, and others with mobility concerns have experienced the benefits of telehealth, enabling those without immediate access to certain specialty care to receive it through virtual visits.