Telemedicine Gets a Tech Boost.
More people are using smartphones and videochat than ever before.
As more people start using videochat apps and smartphones, telemedicine will become even more intuitive and accessible to doctors and patients.
- The number of video callers will surpass an estimated 380 million this year, up significantly from 63 million in 2010.6
- More than 85% of the U.S. population has Internet access, or nearly 280 million people, as of 2014.7
- Nearly two-thirds (64%) of American adults own a smartphone, as of October 2014.8
- About 42% of American adults own a tablet computer, as of January 2014.9
- About 30% of patients already use computers or mobile devices to check for medical or diagnostic information.10
- Nearly half of healthcare professionals plan to integrate mobile apps into their practices in the next five years.11
What Do Doctors and Patients Think About Telemedicine?
It’s hard to deny that telemedicine is a growing force in the healthcare industry today. But how do doctors and patients really feel about using telemedicine? Statistics show that telemedicine is far from a trend but instead a revolutionary change within the healthcare system.
Benefits for Doctors
- More frequent contact with patients
- Improved patient outcomes & better treatment adherence
- Fills gaps in care
- More patient appointments in one day
- Less no-shows and late cancels
- Flexibility and better work-life balance
- Increase practice revenue and competitive edge
- Happier and more engaged patients
- Better equipped to compete with retail care
How Doctors Feel About It
As new technologies are making telemedicine easier and more accessible than ever, more doctors are starting to recognize the benefits, and are integrating telemedicine into their practices. Here are a few specific attitudes doctors have about telemedicine.
- They can deliver the right care to patients at the right time, when they need it most.12
- Half of healthcare executives in one survey said that improving the quality of care was their top reason for implementing telemedicine.13
- Many agree that a vast majority of their patients did not need to be seen in person to be provided with the care they needed.12
- About 84% of healthcare executives said they felt that the development of telemedicine services is either important or very important to their organizations.13
- They feel less rushed than they do in a clinical setting, so they feel they have more time to focus on patient care in the moment.14
- Providing care that is online-based and tech-savvy is attractive to many doctors, especially the younger generations coming into the healthcare system.15
Benefits for Patients
- More regular contact with their doctor
- Extends access to specialists
- Save time and money on travel to the appointment (especially rural patients)
- Speaking to their doctor from the comfort of their own home
- Shorter wait times
- Convenient, on-demand care
- Can encourage them to be more involved with treatment decisions
How Patients Feel About It
Nearly 75% of patients are comfortable communicating with their doctors using technology instead of seeing them in person,16and about the same number say they would use telehealth services.17 That’s a huge percentage of the patient population that’s waiting for their doctors to offer the accessibility and convenience of telemedicine. Here are a few other statistics concerning patients’ attitudes toward telemedicine.
- About 76% of patients prioritize access to care over their need for an in-person interaction with their healthcare providers.10
- Only 16% of patients would choose to go to the emergency room for a minor ailment if they also had access to telemedicine services.18
- A study of 8,000 patients who used telemedicine services found no difference between the virtual appointment and an in-person office visit.3
- More than two-thirds of patients said that using telemedicine somewhat or significantly increases their satisfaction with medical care.18
How Telemedicine Saves Money All Around
With healthcare costs set to hit more than $3.2 trillion this year, the need for more cost-efficient care has never been more important. Telemedicine is one way doctors, patients, employers, and insurance providers can cut costs and save money across the board. Deloitte estimated that physicians conducted about 100 million telemedicine appointments globally in 2014, which generated potential savings of more than $5 billion when compared to the cost of in-person doctor visits.19
U.S. Healthcare Spending Surges
- $3.207 trillion: Projected amount of the National Healthcare Expenditure for 201520
- $10,000: Healthcare costs per person in 201520
- 8%: Projected average growth for healthcare spending until 202421
- $200 billion: Avoidable costs incurred each year due to medication inadherence22
Financial Benefits for Doctors and Hospitals
Doctors and hospitals with telemedicine programs have already seen the the potential ROI and general healthcare cost savings. The Geisinger Health Plan study showed that a telemedicine program generated 11% in cost savings during the study period, which was an estimated return on investment of about $3.30 in cost savings for every $1 on telemedicine program implementation.9These benefits can be particularly pronounced for doctors and hospitals in remote areas serving rural patients. A University of California, Davis study found that when patients used pediatric telemedicine consultations, rural emergency departments saved money compared to telephone consultations—an average of $4,662 per use.23In the UC Davis study, telemedicine consultations decreased the number of patients being transferred to other hospitals by 31%, which represented significant savings for hospitals, particularly on expensive air ambulance transfers.23
Another major financial benefit is the cost savings from reduced hospitalizations. In a study of nursing homes that implemented telemedicine services to provide after-hours care to residents, the nursing homes that employed telemedicine saw hospitalization rates decline between 9.7% and 11.3% for the facilities most engaged with telemedicine services.24In another study, after telemedicine services were employed by the Veterans Health Administration post-cardiac arrest care program, hospital readmissions decreased by 51% for heart failure and 44% for other illnesses.10 These are significant decreases in costly hospital readmissions, which can save a considerable amount of money over time.
Patients See Savings Too
Patients see their own financial benefits from telemedicine. Less hospital readmissions, for example, can save patients a huge hospital bill. Patients can also save on the actual visit charge. Since the average telemedicine appointment ranges from $40 to $50 and in-person care can cost as much as $176 on average, patients can save more than $100 if they choose telemedicine appointments.2As for savings in the long run, in one study of patients diagnosed with preterm labor, the total cost of the pregnancy was $7,225 for patients who used telemedicine services versus $21,684 for patients who went to in-person appointments. That means telemedicine patients saved an average of nearly $14,500.25 Those savings are huge for patients, who increasingly are on high-deductible plans and footing most of the medical bill themselves.
- Employers could save up to $6 billion per year by offering telemedicine services to their employees.26
- One employer said he believes after only six months, telemedicine has helped reduce lost productivity by about half-a-day of work per employee when an employee chooses a telemedicine consultation over in-office doctor visit.27
- When telemedicine appointments are reimbursed at the same rate as in-person visits, Medicare could save an estimated $45 per visit.2
- In the nursing home study, based on the reduced hospitalizations at facilities most engaged with telemedicine, Medicare could save on average about $120,000 per nursing home per year after the annual cost of the telemedicine service.24
How Policy Affects Telemedicine
In the past, physicians looking to adopt telemedicine had many barriers to implementation – especially with restrictive policies and legislation. However, as telemedicine catches on and proves itself as a viable alternative to in-person office visits, policymakers are passing more favorable legislation to enable telemedicine to spread throughout the country’s healthcare system.
Affordable Care Act
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act emphasizes accountability of care, which encourages physicians to focus more on the outcome of care to drive their income rather than the “fee for service” model. In an outcome-driven care model, providers would earn smaller fees for visits and higher rates when they are able to change the outcomes of their patients.
An accountability, outcome-driven care model will rely on patient engagement in a big way. One way for doctors to drive patient engagement and improve patient care outcomes is through telemedicine appointments. Through telemedicine, not only can treatment be delivered more quickly and easily, but it also contributes to better patient monitoring and prevention that can circumvent ever needing acute care in the first place.
Meaningful Use involves using certified electronic health record technology to improve and coordinate various aspects of care, including increasing patient engagement. Experts feel that Meaningful Use could be a key component of a telemedicine incentive program that may encourage adoption of telemedicine services.28
Parity laws ensure that private insurers cover telemedicine consultations the same way they cover in-person visits to healthcare providers.
As of August 2015, 29 states and Washington, D.C. had enacted telemedicine parity laws, and many of those states also require telemedicine coverage by their Medicaid programs.29Sometimes states also mandate telemedicine coverage by their state employee health plans.29 Specifics of the laws can vary from state to state.
Medicare and Medicaid Reimbursement for Telemedicine
Medicare does cover some telemedicine services, but has some restrictions. In general, Medicare covers telemedicine visits that model in-person visits (meaning live videochat). And Medicare reimburses for those visits at the same rates as the comparable in-person visit. For more information, check out our Medicare & Telemedicine page.
Most state Medicaid programs also cover telemedicine (except RI and CT). The guidelines vary from state-to-state. Here are a few stats about telemedicine coverage via Medicaid:
- 48 states cover some form of telemedicine32
- 14 states cover remote patient monitoring29
- Only 3 states cover all three types of telemedicine29
For more information, check out our Medicaid & Telemedicine page.
“The reimbursement landscape is already changing, and there are many viable options for getting compensated for practicing telemedicine. The smartest thing organizations can do now is to continue developing programs, and be ready for the law to catch up – because it will,” said Larry Vernaglia, chair of Foley’s Health Care Practice.33
Where Telemedicine Is Heading in the Future
Picture this: You head into your office and turn on your computer. Reviewing your schedule for the day, you notice you have about 50% more appointments than you had before you began offering telemedicine services. It’s time for the first appointment, so you adjust your webcam, and while the telemedicine software is starting up, you review the medical file for your first patient.
The video feed comes on, and you begin engaging with your first patient, who, judging from her symptoms and history, appears to be suffering from a painful urinary tract infection. You prescribe the same medication that she has used in the past, and she is happy to be on her way. Ten minutes has passed and you are ready for Patient No. 2, who is already keyed up in the queue and waiting for you to activate the video feed.
This scenario could involve an entire day’s worth of appointments or some extra time you find after normal office hours one day. The additional appointments you can fit into one day offers you extra income you can use to grow your practice.
This is what a future with telemedicine could look like. You could see more patients and generate more income and cost-savings in a day, and your patients could enjoy faster, more convenient appointments from the comfort of their home. What’s more, these benefits are just the beginning of what telemedicine has to offer. The number of patients using telemedicine services is projected to be 7 million in 2018. That’s compared to less than 350,000 in 2013. That tells you telemedicine is more than just a passing healthcare trend.34 In fact, telemedicine is estimated to be a $36.3 billion industry by 2020.35 With that kind of growth and the potential to impact care, adopting telemedicine is your next step toward a more connected and engaged healthcare system.
[PULLOUT STATS] The Future of Telemedicine By the Numbers
- The global telemedicine technologies market is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 18.4% from 2014 to 2020.4
- In addition to the 22% of employers with 1,000 employees or more who offer telemedicine services to their employees, another 37% of employers plan to offer telemedicine services by the end of 2015.26
Ready to do telemedicine? With its wide-ranging benefits, jumping on the telemedicine bandwagon is simply a smart move. Once you identify what telemedicine can do for you and your practice, you’ll be part of a movement that’s leading the way to better care.
- The Promise of Telehealth For Hospitals, Health Systems and Their Communities,TrendWatch, January 2015