One of the fastest-growing parts of the health care system, and which touches significantly on group health plans, is telemedicine.
From 2016 to 2017, insurance claims for services rendered via telehealth ― as a percentage of all medical claim lines ― grew 53% nationally, faster than any other avenue of care, according to “FH Health Indicators,” a white paper published by the nonprofit FAIR Health.
What is telemedicine
Telemedicine, also called Telehealth, uses technology to provide remote care via video conferencing and other means, and is proving to be more and more effective, especially for time-pressed individuals or people who live in rural areas where patients often have to travel great distances for care.
Elderly patients especially find it useful, since it eliminates the need for transportation.
But as telemedicine gains traction, the focus is shifting away from the novelty of connected devices and new technology and more toward providing patients with top-notch care ― and giving providers, physicians and nurses alike the power to deliver it effectively. As it evolves, it is also a promising new trend in terms of reducing health care delivery costs.
Telemedicine can reduce the cost of care by eliminating the physical barriers that prevent patients from managing their health. As more patients take advantage of digital services like remote patient monitoring, automatic appointment reminders, and remote physician consulting using live video and audio, patients can use these services to reduce the cost of care and improve their chances of early detection.
And that can reduce your overall group health plan costs, as well as out-of-pocket costs for your employees.
Tech firms are coming up with more efficient ways for patients to communicate with their doctors that save time and money, and reduce liability for doctors as well. For example, more and more health care practitioners are adopting an online patient portal as a direct link between the patient and the doctor.
Doctors, patients embrace online portals
The portal can easily be password-protected for each patient and streamline routine interactions from appointment-setting to refilling prescriptions ― and everything in between.
For example, when it’s time to get a prescription refilled, the patient simply makes a request to his or her doctor, via the patient portal or even via a cell phone or tablet app that can be proprietary to the practice. The doctor checks the dosage and approves the request in a few clicks, and in seconds the information is sent directly to a pharmacy so the patient can pick up the prescription.
The patient doesn’t have to get the doctor on the phone or bug the staff for a moment with the doctor, and the doctor doesn’t have to do additional paperwork or get on the phone with the pharmacy to call in the prescription after already having spoken with the patient on a separate call. The result is tremendous time savings ― and ultimately, cost savings for both the doctor and patient.
Online portals also facilitate communication between doctors and patients between appointments. If a patient has a question or clarification that does not warrant an additional office visit, the doctor or staff can quickly respond in an instant, without playing phone tag, and without having to route calls to busy doctors who can’t always be on the phone.
Physicians can also leverage these portal technologies to send lab results and images directly to the patient using a secured and encrypted link, and to make clinical summaries easily available online. When the doctor adds new information to the file, such as a lab report, the portal system can be programmed to automatically send an e-mail alert to prompt the patient to log onto the portal.
For all the technology though, we still have a way to go in implementing it. According to a recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, 57% of respondents said they want to use their doctor’s website to review their medical records, but only 7% of those polled reported having made use of that technology to access their own information online.
A study from the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 77% to 87% of individuals who used their physician’s portal to open at least one note, and who completed a post-intervention survey, said that the process helped them be more in control of their health care.