Telemedicine Could Yield $6 Billion Annually in Savings with Integration

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According to a recent analysis report by Towers Watson, a global professional services company, telemedicine has the potential to deliver more than $6 b...

According to a recent analysis report by Towers Watson, a global professional services company, telemedicine has the potential to deliver more than $6 billion a year in health care savings to U.S. companies.

“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. “Achieving this savings requires a shift in patient and physician mindsets, health plan willingness to integrate and reimburse such services, and regulatory [digital] support in all states.”

Thirty-seven percent of employers surveyed said that by 2015 they expect to offer their employees telemedicine consultations as a low-cost alternative to emergency room or physician office visits for nonemergency health issues. An additional 34 percent are considering offering telemedicine for 2016 or 2017.

Currently, approximately 22 percent of employers offer telemedicine programs, and that number is expected to rise to 37 percent in the coming years (a 68 percent increase), according to Towers Watson’s 2014 Health Care Changes Ahead Survey of U.S employers with at least 1,000 employees.

Driven by lower costs of telemedicine technology itself and by more insurance companies supporting telemedicine to cut costs, it is expected that the use of telemedicine will continue to increase.

However, even among employers who use such programs, utilization is low. Khoury says that vendors generally claim per-member utilization of less than 10 percent.

Among the many barriers to providing care via telemedicine, perhaps the biggest obstacle is the lack of reimbursement for telehealth services, stated HealthData Management. To address the problem, however, a bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that seeks to expand telehealth coverage for Medicare beneficiaries and other patients in underserved areas. The Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2014, a companion bill to legislation in the House, would waive statutory Medicare restrictions on telehealth services in order to encourage greater use of telehealth technologies.

“With both insurance companies and employers encouraging its use, telemedicine is going to have a growing role in the spectrum of health care service delivery. We’re also likely to see that it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Telemedicine is just one piece of a broader telehealth spectrum that includes video, apps, kiosks, virtual visits, wearable devices and other advancements,” concluded Khoury. 

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