By Katie Wike, contributing writer
Health insurers are now jumping aboard the telemedicine bandwagon in an effort to cut costs by allowing patients to participate in initial visits to the doctor virtually.
Health insurers are quickly finding out that a virtual visit to the doctor isn’t just convenient for patients, but more cost effective for everyone involved. Sure, the physicians save time and can work remotely, but payers are discovering the bill is much smaller when patients don’t actually need to visit the office.
According to Bloomberg, Aetna and Wellpoint are just a few of the insurers now supporting telemedicine. “In a major expansion of telemedicine, WellPoint this month started offering 4 million patients the ability to have e-visits with doctors, while Aetna says it will boost online access to 8 million people next year from 3 million now.”
iHealth Beat reports that the average ER visit costs upwards of $1,000 dollars, while the average telemedicine visit cost only $50. A shortage of physicians is another reason many are turning to telemedicine. “A critical shortage in the supply of physicians in the United States has necessitated innovative approaches to physician service delivery. Telemedicine is a viable service delivery model for a variety of physician and health services,” explained authors of a recent study.
“More and more patients are comfortable seeing a physician online,” said Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Linkous of the American Telemedicine Association told Bloomberg. “It’s an adoption process. They understand it, and use it.”
Although telemedicine looks like a promising solution, there are still hurdles to overcome. Peter Antall, a pediatrician, heads the Online Care Group, which provides doctors for American Well admits “there are some things we can’t do,” but is confident that telemedicine physicians can tell when urgent care is needed.