Patients Win Big as Healthcare Shifts to Telehealth

The Rise of Telehealth Means Lower Costs for Patients

COVID-19 called for overnight innovation, and it may have transformed healthcare forever. During the first quarter of 2020 alone, the number of telehealth visits increased by 50% as compared to the same period in 2019, according to the CDC.

It’s clear that telemedicine is convenient for patients, but is it also cost-efficient?

It appears that telemedicine is indeed less expensive than in-office visits, both for patients and physicians. It is more affordable for patients for the following reasons:

1.       Telehealth saves patients travel and waiting time – and time is money

2.       Telemedicine is helping thousands of patients avoid emergency room costs

3.       E-visits make it possible to reduce costly time spent in the hospital

Let’s go over how much your average telemedicine appointment might cost, and then explain the reasons why telemedicine is saving patients money. We’ll also go over some FAQs about insurance coverage and telehealth. Finally, we’ll cover some of the other benefits patients are getting out of telemedicine.

How Much Does Telemedicine Cost?

Virtual visits with a primary care provider usually cost about $50, whereas a traditional in-office visit costs around $176. Insurance coverage may change both of these numbers slightly, but right now, many telehealth appointments have low copays (and some have no copays at all).

Here are the three reasons why telemedicine is more affordable than in-person medical care:

1. Time is Money

A 2015 Boston Globe study proved that the average patient loses $43 in time on each healthcare visit. Taking off work, traveling to the office, and being there for minutes or hours is a significant time loss.

Imagine those patients with ongoing conditions who have to visit their physicians regularly – weekly or even more often. Telemedicine allows providers to schedule convenient follow-up visits with these patients and manage their care remotely. With the press of a button, patients are instantly meeting with their care providers.

E-visits save patients a significant chunk of time, and time is money.

2. Avoid the Emergency Room

A trip to the emergency room can cost about $100 in copay costs, or up to $3,000 for a patient with no insurance. The world of telehealth has allowed patients to check-in with providers day or night, and avoid rushing to the ER or urgent care facility.

Many healthcare providers who offer telehealth also devise ways for patients to reach their staff after-hours. Even if an in-person visit is necessary, patients can find out whether their situation merits an ER visit, or if it can wait until regular office hours. This feature has saved a lot of fear and worry, and money from emergency room visits as well.

3. Cut Down on Hospital Days

Telemedicine helps some patients stay in their homes and out of the hospital.

When a patient needs close monitoring, telehealth is a viable alternative to hospital stays in some cases. The average in-patient hospital stay is about 5 days, which may cost a patient over $10,000.

Patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who began using telehealth services saved around $3,000 each year. Telehealth monitoring is life-changing for some individuals.

Overall, because doctors and hospitals are saving time, space and equipment with telehealth, they are able to provide services more cheaply.

Questions about Telemedicine and Insurance

Insurance companies are adapting rapidly to these new times in medicine. The best thing you can do is call your provider to understand what your telehealth coverage is like right now.

While you’re waiting in that long queue of patients who are wondering the very same thing, here are some FAQs about telemedicine and insurance coverage.

Will my insurance cover telemedicine appointments the same way it covers in-person visits?

Some states have parity laws, meaning both telemedicine and in-person services are covered the same way. Payment parity means that reimbursement for telemedicine is at the same rate as in-person visits. These laws apply to private insurance companies.

Even states that do not have a parity law in place have partial parity laws or parity laws in progress.

Does Medicare cover telemedicine?

Medicare has opened up dozens of new avenues for telemedicine in recent months, but keep in mind you might only be covered for a telemedicine appointment if it is (A) medically necessary and (B) the doctor follows Medicare guidelines for the telemedicine consultation.

Does Medicaid cover telemedicine?

48 US states currently have policies in place that allows Medicaid to cover various telemedicine services, including patient-doctor communication, remote monitoring and mobile health.  

Is telehealth cheaper out-of-pocket?

Be aware of state and insurance policies, because you may decide it is simpler to pay out-of-pocket for telemedicine appointments. These appointments are significantly cheaper than in-office visits. Patients who want to skip the hassle of insurance or who do not have insurance choose to pay the $40-$50 themselves.

Is telehealth secure?

Yes, however always make sure that your provider offers HIPAA Compliant Texting. You can rest assure most providers are using HIPAA compliant video and text.

Don’t Forget About Other Patient Benefits

Patient benefits aren’t limited to lower costs alone. Other patient advantages include:

· No need to take time off of work

· No need to find a babysitter

· Contact providers after-hours and on-demand

· Skip the long drive to specialists

· Avoid contagious disease

·  Maximize your time

Telemedicine is making people healthier and happier with accessible care, especially during this pandemic.

Armed with knowledge about the costs, insurance operations and other patient benefits of telemedicine, you might want to schedule an appointment with a skilled telehealth provider.