When a mysterious rash broke out on Missy Eckstein’s face and stomach, her first instinct was to head to the local urgent care facility to have someone diagnose and treat her.
But the Massachusetts woman said that, in hindsight, she wished she had started with a telehealth appointment first.
“I was given a wrong diagnosis,” Eckstein said. “So I called a dermatologist and told them what was happening and they saw me virtually the next day.”
The telehealth appointment process was seamless for Eckstein, and the visit saved her time, money and travel.
“I didn’t need a referral and I felt more comfortable and confident I was getting the best care,” she said. “The results from my telehealth visit far exceeded the in-person visit.”
Stories like Eckstein’s are becoming more common as telehealth has gained popularity over the last few years. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated that trend. The Global Telehealth Market was valued at $21.7 billion last year, and is projected to reach $71.44 billion by 2027, according to Verified Market Research.
Telehealth companies are not only aiming to provide patients with medical care that’s convenient; they’re also aiming to save those patients money.
How Telehealth Can Save You Time and Money
Eckstein found that using telehealth services saved her gas money, time spent in a waiting room and time off requests, an observation mirrored by Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of American Telemedicine Association (ATA).
“Telehealth and virtual care services can help to improve efficiencies and thereby reduce healthcare costs,” Johnson said.
Here’s one way in which that manifests: When a patient can visit a doctor from the comfort of their home, a patient doesn’t have to take time off from work, pay for additional child or elder care and eliminates travel costs to and from the doctor’s office or hospital.
Johnson said there are two main kinds of telehealth visits: real-time interactions via video or telephone, and text-based services that let patients submit their information for review at a later time.
“Both modes of virtual care can be effective, depending upon the health issue,” she said. “It’s also important to note that there are some situations, when a patient requires a physical examination of some kind, or testing that needs to be done in a clinical setting, that are not appropriate for virtual care.”
Johnson added that telehealth can also help patients indirectly save money by making the process more efficient, from data collection to time spent in the waiting room.
Telehealth Helps Medical Providers Save Too
Another way telehealth can save consumers money is through the savings it also affords providers.
A study in 2008 on a national telehealth program executive by the Veterans Health Administration found that telehealth reduced the number of bed days of care by 25% and also reduced hospital admissions by 19%, placing less strain on the system and easing costs for all parties.
Overall, cost savings to the consumer can range anywhere from $100 all the way up to $1,500, which is what Philadelphia-based provider Jefferson Health calculated as the savings to the consumer simply by being able to divert patients from unnecessary ER visits using telehealth.
However, Johnson said it’s not clear whether widespread access to telehealth will continue following the pandemic. Congressional flexibilities temporarily put in place allow for access to telehealth for all individuals, and many insurers, as well as Medicare, have waived fees for telehealth. However, those waived fees could be reinstated if the flexibilities are not made into law.
However, signs also point to consumers and providers not wanting to give up their telehealth options even when the pandemic is over.
A study published in April 2020 from the John A. Hartford Foundation found that 21% of older adults report having a medical appointment by phone or video chat that would have normally been in person. Of those who have had a telehealth visit, almost 60% said that the experience was about the same as or better than an in-person visit.
Elizabeth Carr is a contributor to Codetic.