UnitedHealthcare, the largest healthcare insurer, has announced expanded coverage for virtual physician visits. The new coverage is limited initially to people in self-funded employer health plans. Online access to a physician can be by mobile phone, tablet, or desktop 24 hours a day. The American Telemedicine Association said more than 10 million consumers directly benefited from telemedicine in 2014. A recent Harris Poll survey found 27% of consumers would choose a telehealth visit if the option was available to them.
The rapid growth and incredible power of consumer devices combined with ubiquitous wireless with good bandwidth are causing fast growth of telehealth. UnitedHealthcare is developing a network of care providers who will offer video-based virtual visits enabling patients to see and speak with a doctor using real-time audio and video. (My wife and I use FaceTime to visit our grandchildren who are nearly 2,000 miles away. It is not the same as being there, but a virtual visit is much better than no visit). With telehealth onsumers will be able to obtain a diagnosis and any necessary prescriptions for minor medical needs including allergies, sinus and bladder infections, bronchitis and other conditions.
The cost of a video-based virtual visit is less than $50 and provides significant savings when compared to costs for similar minor medical needs treated at a doctor’s office ($80), urgent care facility ($160) or emergency room ($650). UnitedHealthcare said plan participants will pay a portion of the cost for the virtual visit, subject to deductibles, copays and out-of-pocket expenses based on their specific benefit plan.
Telehealth is about to explode on the scene. Consumers will have more convenient access. Physicians will adopt, embrace, and become very proficient at delivering virtual care. Telehealth will not replace in person consultations but will limit them to when they are really needed. The bottom line is that telehealth will be one of many changes underway to reduce the cost of healthcare. Read much more about telehealth in Health Attitude.