Telemed Could Save $6 Billion a Year

If the United States is truly looking to cut healthcare costs, then implementing widespread use of telemedicine could save companies more than $6 billion a year.

If the United States is truly looking to cut healthcare costs, then implementing widespread use of telemedicine could save companies more than $6 billion a year, according to an analysis from Towers Watson.

However, in order to realize these savings, it would require all employees and their dependents to use the technology currently available to interact in lieu of face-to-face visits to the doctor, urgent care center, or emergency room when appropriate.

This scenario may not be as far-fetched as one would think. According to Towers Watson, the number of employers offering telemedicine should increase by 68% by next year.

“While this analysis highlights a maximum potential savings, even a significantly lower level of use could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in savings,” Allan Khoury, MD, a senior consultant at Towers Watson, said in a statement. “Achieving this savings requires a shift in patient and physician mindsets, health plan willingness to integrate and reimburse such services, and regulatory support in all states.”

Currently, less than a quarter (22%) of employers offers telemedicine programs. However, by 2015, 37% of employers surveyed by Towers Watson expect to offer telemedicine consultations to their employees as a low-cost alternative to making a trip to the emergency room or the doctor’s office for nonemergency issues. Plus, another 34% is considering telemedicine for 2016 or 2017.

Although telemedicine usage is expected to increase, utilization among those employers that currently offer such programs is low. According to Khoury, per-member utilization is less than 10%.

“With both insurance companies and employers encouraging its use, telemedicine is going to have a growing role in the spectrum of health care service delivery,” said Khoury. “We’re also likely to see that it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Telemedicine is just one piece of a broader telehealth spectrum that includes video, apps, kiosks, virtual visits, wearable devices and other advancements.”