By Dr. Samant Virk, MD, MediSprout
When faced with article after article about the rising costs of healthcare, I often ask myself --can healthcare be cheaper than the cost of a cup of coffee? And the answer that I come back to every time is, Yes! With the proper technology, a doctor visit can cost less than your morning latte.
Everyone knows that healthcare is enormously expensive in the United States, but most people don’t know the half of it.
U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) reported that Americans spent $3.65 trillion on healthcare in 2018 --an amount larger than the GDPs of countries like Brazil, Mexico, Spain and Canada -- and the highest amount by far in the developed world. Health spending jumped by 3.9 percent in 2017 and that is only going to get worse. The report estimates health costs to rise, on average, 5.5 percent per year from 2018 to 2027 reaching nearly $6 trillion.
There are a number of reasons healthcare is so expensive in the U.S. and many of the issues that cause these rising costs require big-picture solutions beyond one patient or doctor. But there is one way that healthcare organizations, doctors and their patients could help lower costs. In fact, they could make a doctor visit cheaper than a Starbucks Latte.
How? By incorporating telehealth services into the doctor-patient interaction.
A typical office visit costs the patient a copay or portion of a deductible, usually in the $20-$30 range. Then there are the travel costs going to and from the office including gas, tolls, and parking. Don’t forget to add in the cost of your time. The average wait time in a doctor’s office is a little over 18 minutes. And here is another potential cost: the cost of catching the flu, a cold or other contagious illness while sharing a waiting room with sick people. Almost 23 million flu patients visit their doctor every flu season, exposing others to the germs that they’re carrying.
All of these costs can be reduced or eliminated with a virtual office visit through a secure telemedicine portal. In fact, a visit can cost a patient as little as $4 with no lost time for leaving work to commute to the doctor and waiting for your appointment.
Telehealth saves physicians time too. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, doctors spend—on average—just 27 percent of their time treating patients in person—and more than 70 percent of their time on tasks such as answering patient calls and messages for which they do not get reimbursed. These doctors would love it if they could spend more time with the patients that need them rather than meeting with patients to address questions that could be handled via a virtual visit. Besides time, telehealth services have a big impact on the bottom line by increasing efficiency and converting the non-reimbursable time into reimbursable scheduled video calls. Between canceled and no-show appointments, follow-up phone calls and emails, doctors can be losing out on more than $5,000 of revenue a week.
Telehealth can save costs in other ways as well. One of the biggest cost drivers is patient noncompliance. When patients don’t follow instructions, take medications as directed or receive recommended follow-up care, they are more likely to relapse or develop complications that require more treatment. Telemedicine allows doctors and patients to stay connected between visits easily and economically, which prompts more regular interaction around topics like test results, refills, medication, and treatment clarifications and health updates.
Telemedicine connects doctors and their patients using secure video, helping clinicians provide better care, see more patients and operate a more profitable practice while cutting overall healthcare costs. It allows doctors to do what they do best, which is to help people, and allows patients the ease, convenience, and cost savings of seeing their doctor at a time and place that works for them.
Improving the quality of our own healthcare and reducing the costs and time associated with getting the healthcare that you need is something that each of us can do. Implementing and supporting the telehealth solutions of your local physician’s offices is a win-win for all. I encourage you to give it a try!
About The Author
Dr. Samant Virk is Founder & CEO of MediSprout, a company focused on connecting doctors with their patients through innovative technology solutions. He is also a physician having practiced clinical medicine for almost 15 years, with a specialization in Neurology and Interventional Spine.
 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, NHE Fact Sheet, https://www.cms.gov/research-statistics-data-and-systems/statistics-trends-and-reports/nationalhealthexpenddata/nhe-fact-sheet.html
 The New England Journal of Medicine, What’s Keeping Us So Busy in Primary Care? A Snapshot from One Practice, https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMon0910793