The use of telemedicine programs by employers will rise 68 percent in 2015, potentially saving them approximately $6 billion yearly, a recent Towers Watson survey says.
Telemedicine is poised to take off in the next few years, as a convergence of multiple factors in the U.S. Healthcare environment is allowing it to become part of standard healthcare. The momentum for its wider practice is about to accelerate further based on the findings of a recent survey made by Towers Watson.
According to the global professional services firm, U.S. employers and companies could save up to $6 billion annually if they continue to ramp up adoption of their telemedicine programs for their workers. Currently, 22 percent of companies with more than a thousand employees offer telemedicine consultations as a low-cost alternative to face-to-face consultations with primary care physicians and emergency room visits. But for 2015, an additional 37 percent−at least 68 percent more than this year−plan to offer telemedicine services. In the next three years or by 2016 or 2017, a further 34 percent plan to adopt telehealth programs for employees, according to the Towers Watson’s 2014 Health Care Changes Ahead Survey.
“While this analysis highlights a maximum potential savings, even a significantly lower level of use could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in savings,” Dr. Allan Khoury, senior consultant at Towers Watson, said in a statement. “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.”
These obstacles are slowly being dismantled. As stated in a nuviun article, government health policy and regulatory changes, remote monitoring, and increased interest in technology to manage personal healthcare are driving telemedicine adoption. Telemedicine offers a “care delivery without walls” using technology “to improve health, improve outcomes and the experience of care for more patients securely, in less time and at a lower cost,” said Microsoft’s chief health strategy office, Dennis Schmuland, M.D., in the article.
Telemedicine can bring down the ballooning costs of healthcare for employers, while giving the employee the same resources to quality healthcare using such new technologies as wearables, smartphone apps and home care monitoring equipment. It could be a win-win situation, but only if both parties do it right.
“Telemedicine requires that patients have access to a telemedicine service, that they actually know about that access, and that they use the service,” senior consultant Jeff Levin-Scherz recently told MobiHealthNews. “Employer-sponsored access to telemedicine services is increasing substantially, and we are working with our clients to be sure that they communicate the value of this offering to their beneficiaries. We expect that patient demand for these services will increase as more people have friends and families who have had good experiences with these visits.”
Dr. Koury said in the statement that vendors report low utilization of telemedicine programs−as low as under 10 percent. But he said that employers and insurers are encouraging its use, and that it would like become an important part of the health care service delivery of the future. He also added that telemedicine is just “one piece of a broader telehealth spectrum that includes video, apps, kiosks, virtual visits, wearable devices and other advancements.”
This reflects the opinion of most industry leaders, such as Jonathon Linkous, the CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, who stated recently, “We’re in booming times…the amazing thing is that despite the fact that we have a lot of obstacles…there’s been tremendous growth in telemedicine.”