Recently, many employers and individuals have seen health insurance premiums remain unchanged or increase only a small percentage, a welcome shift from the double-digit increases that had become the norm. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, the overall cost of healthcare continues to rise. And with more and more individuals and families covered by a High Deductible Health Plan, healthcare costs are a significant burden on the household monthly budget. According to a 2018 national survey by the University of Chicago and West Health Institute, over the past 12 months, 44% of Americans said they didn’t go to the doctor when they were sick or injured because of financial concerns.

A separate, but equally important, issue within the healthcare system is the availability of doctors, especially primary care physicians. The United States could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030, impacting patient care across the nation, according to data published by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges).

While there isn’t an easy answer to these problems, telemedicine is one way in which individuals are more quickly accessing healthcare providers, and typically doing so at a cost lower than a traditional in-person treatment approach. Simply put, telemedicine is the remote delivery of healthcare services using telecommunications. It allows healthcare providers to evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients using common technology such as video conferencing and smartphones. Some of the most common symptoms of telehealth users are: sinus problems, urinary tract infections, nasal congestion, flus, coughs, and ear infections.

Telehealth has quickly grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. In fact, the National Business Group on Health reported that 96% of its members (comprised of major US employers) offer a telehealth benefit. Why the rapid growth in telehealth? The biggest reasons are convenience, cost reduction, patient demand, and insurance carrier investment. Members can call (or video-chat) day or night for common issues and, if needed, can even get a prescription placed at their local pharmacy within minutes. More and more individuals are realizing the telehealth process can be more efficient and cost-effective than getting an appointment with their primary care physician. The cost of telehealth varies, but most are $10 to $50 per call, with some services offering free unlimited access in exchange for a low monthly fee. Compare that to the cost of urgent care which is typically more than $100. There is also a soft dollar cost savings with telehealth usage resulting from reduced workplace absenteeism. Not surprisingly, younger employees are gravitating toward telehealth, but with 77% of Americans now owning a cell phone, telehealth is expected to become more readily used by middle-age and older employees as well. And with an increase in demand, health insurers now include a telehealth service as part of their plan offerings, typically through a third party.

It’s important to note that telehealth and online doctor services aren’t intended to replace the family physician or specialist, but rather to quickly and inexpensively address routine medical concerns.

Bill Carson
Benefits Consultant


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