Telemedicine is beneficial not just for patients, especially those in rural, remote areas without easy access to healthcare.
Turns out that U.S. employes can win big if they start to offer it to their employees.
A recent report from Towers Watson, a global professionals services company, shows that U.S. employers would save $6 billion annually if all employees and their dependents used currently available technology-enabled healthcare interactions "in place of face-to-face visits to the doctor, urgent care center or emergency room (for appropriate medical problems)."
"While this analysis highlights a maximum potential savings, even a significantly lower level of use could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in savings,” said Dr. Allan Khoury, a senior consultant at Towers Watson, in a news release highlighting the report findings. “Achieving this savings requires a shift in patient and physician mindsets, health plan willingness to integrate and reimburse such services, and regulatory support in all states.”
A 2014 Towers Watson survey of U.S. employers with at least 1,000 employees showed that 37% of them expect that by 2015 they will offer employees telemedicine consultations as a cheaper alternative to ER or office visits for nonemergency health issues. Currently, 22% of employers said they offer telemedicine vists to employees.
Another 34% of employers said they are considering offering telemedicine in 2016 or 2017 to employees.
Towers Watson's research indicates that one in seven primary care visits are for conditions that could likely be handled through a telemedicine route, states Dr. Jeffrey Levin-Scherz, a senior consultant at Towers in an email. Specifically it could be a telephone consult or a video consult that replaces the office visit. And some employers are even offering telemedicine kiosks that allow measuring vital signs like blood pressure and temperature, skin examinations with high-resolution cameras, and even lung exams with high technology microphones.
Insurers are also helping to boost this trend toward employers offering telemedicine services to employees, according to Levin-Scherz. But there are still some regulatory challenges - for instance, state by state regulation hampers the ability to provide a uniform telemedicine services across the nation.
Yet with the advance of technology, more telemedicine office visits are going to happen in the future, Levin-Scherz believes.