A colleague who was laid low by a respiratory virus was too tired to go to the doctor and too sick to ignore her symptoms. So she found a solution that worked for her: She set-up an e-health visit online through her health care provider and paid $20 for a quick review of her symptoms.
My colleague was taking advantage of a growing trend toward using telemedicine to get care. Telemedicine is defined as using electronic communications to provide diagnosis and treatment. Those
communications may include videoconferencing, phone calls, Internet-based communications or exchanging information using specialized apps on smartphones.
In the near future, it’s likely that telemedicine will become a mainstream option for obtaining medical care. Consider these developments:
- More than half of hospitals use telemedicine in some form, according to experts who spoke at a Wisconsin Medical Society event in the fall of 2014. In Wisconsin, that includes specialists using telemedicine connections to care for patients in rural areas; insurers connecting patients to care; and patients getting follow-up care via smartphones in their living rooms.
- Telemedicine visits typically save money. While prices vary depending on the vendor and the option chosen, it’s common for a telemedicine visit to cost roughly half the price of an urgent care visit. Telemedicine can also be used to help monitor chronic conditions, which in some
cases could reduce the time and cost currently required for ongoing visits to doctors’ offices.
- Telemedicine is expected to save employers as much as $6 billion annually. A 2014 Towers Watson survey on future health care changes found that 22 percent of employers currently offered telemedicine consultations for nonemergency visits, but 37 percent expected to offer it by the end of this year.
- Numerous vendors are designing products aimed at bringing telemedicine to employers, including a Mayo Clinic pilot program that uses video-equipped kiosks to create an alternative to
a fully-staffed worksite clinic. Other vendors that serve employers offer a streamlined Internet sign-on process to link employees to board-certified physicians via smartphones, tablets or desktop computers.
- Telemedicine providers could help address a projected physician shortage. That’s because telemedicine providers can see more patients. They can also see patients anywhere, anytime, which could help address the shortage of providers in specific geographic areas, such as rural communities.
- Patients are quickly becoming more receptive to telemedicine, which will increase users from 350,000 in 2013 to a projected 7 million in 2018, according to a report from IHS Technology.
- New applications are being found for telemedicine on an ongoing basis. In Tennessee, where flu hit epidemic levels in late December 2014, physicians diagnosed flu over the telephone to
prevent its spread in waiting rooms. If patients reported symptoms that indicated they were likely to have the flu, antiviral medicine was prescribed.
The Alliance plans to help employers explore their telemedicine options in the coming year through an Alliance Learning Circle.
So what about my colleague at The Alliance? She learned that despite her misery, she likely had a virus that required rest, liquids and time for recovery. She also got a list of symptoms to watch to make sure her condition didn’t progress to something more serious.
She was happy to get some answers, and even happier to avoid sitting in a waiting room with other people with contagious conditions.
Paul has more than 12 years of experience in benefits and insurance, including positions with UMR and Wellpoint. Paul received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has held his Wisconsin insurance license since 2003.
Read blog posts by Paul.
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