Telemedicine: The Cost-Effective Future of Healthcare

Having an interest in healthcare, Rehm quickly found himself communicating executive-level nursing strategies on patient experience, care continuity, and frontline engagement to chief nursing officers and chief executive officers of some of the nation's leading healthcare systems. Currently, he is the community manager for Nursing@Georgetown, the online Master of Science degree in Nursing program from Georgetown University School of Nursing and Health Studies.
Many Americans are seeking more affordable means of care as costs are predicted to increase in many states by 10% to 40%. One possible solution to safely reduce costs: telemedecine.
A predicted shortage of primary care providers—such as family nurse practitioners—in remote areas, combined with an aging population and a possible increase in insurance premiums, have both patients and providers questioning the affordability of health insurance in 2017.
 
According to an article in The Washington Post, many states and cities will see a 10% to 40% increase in the health insurance premiums for Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans. The report focuses on the “silver-tier" coverage plan, which is used to determine the subsidy consumers can receive under the ACA to lower their monthly premiums.
 
There is one possible solution to reduce out-of-pocket expenses: telemedicine. According to a 2014 analysis, the market for telemedicine technologies is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 18.4% through the year 2020.
 

What Is Telemedicine?

In short, telemedicine, or telehealth, is a virtual visit with a primary care provider (PCP). This includes checking in with medical professionals through phone calls, over video chat, or with e-mail.
 

The Benefits of Telemedicine

Telemedicine has increased accessed to healthcare for communities and people who normally wouldn’t receive the attention they need. According to the Pew Research Center, 84% of US households own a computer and 73% have a computer with a broadband internet connection.
 
This access not only allows people to speak with a doctor but also removes the expenses of traveling to a hospital. This is a great benefit for people in rural communities, where the nearest medical center can be 20-plus miles away, and for those who cannot, or are unable, to use public transportation.
 
Millennials—who statistically require less intensive medical care and traditionally opt for high-deductible health plans—also have an opportunity to save money. According to a study conducted by Red Quill Consulting Inc., the average cost of a virtual visit is $40 to $50, while in-person care can cost as much as $176 per visit.
 
Telehealth is also convenient for younger Americans who plan on moving to a new city or frequently travel. Many PCPs require a one-time, in-person physical examination for new patients. After the initial physical, they can easily communicate with their patients via e-mail and virtually diagnose and prescribe medication for common ailments such as a cold or rash.
 

Challenges of Telemedicine

There are many instances where a patient’s case requires a more thorough examination that cannot be conducted virtually. Examples include broken bones, diagnosing chronic diseases, or drawing blood for further tests.
 
There are also concerns that private patient information could be compromised through a lack of cyber security breaches, and not all insurance companies cover telehealth services. It’s important for patients to read through their policies and ask clarifying questions with an insurance company’s representative.
 

What Does the Future Hold?

Despite the obstacles still in play, the financial benefits of telemedicine cannot be ignored. Patients save money by not having to pay for transportation to and from a hospital, which can be miles away for rural communities.
 
It also allows for millennials to conveniently access a healthcare provider for preventive care measures or simply to establish a PCP. Providers gain by delivering high-quality care to a greater range of patients and having the ability to virtually check in with patients on a more consistent basis.
 
Through the development of strategic, industrywide best practices and regulations, healthcare professionals can preserve the provider–patient relationship while delivering affordable healthcare.

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