News Feature | December 24, 2014

Telehealth Costs Up To $100 Less Than Office Visits

Katie Wike

By Katie Wike, contributing writer

Taxing Information, Communication Technologies Actually Costs Money, Study Shows

A recently released study finds, per visit, telemedicine can save up to $100 compared to traditional in-office visits.

According to an Alliance for Connected Care study, telehealth visits have the potential to save the healthcare system more than $100 per visit. Researchers explain traditional office visits average a cost of $136 to $176, but virtual visits via telemedicine range in cost from $40 to $50 per visit.

“Assuming that a telehealth visit costs approximately $50/visit, the estimated savings per commercial telehealth visit are $126,” explains the report. “In Medicare, where telehealth visits are reimbursed at the same rate as in person care, savings would still be realized from replacing in person care with telehealth visits where appropriate. In fact, replacing in-person acute care services with telehealth visits reimbursed at the same rate as a doctor’s office visit could save the Medicare program an estimated $45 per visit.”

The average number of telehealth visits per patient is 1.3 per year. Modern Healthcare reports 5.6 percent of patients who used the virtual visits would otherwise have gone to an emergency department while 45.8 percent to urgent care. Another 30.9 percent would have opted for office visits and about 12 of patients would simply have done nothing.

Eighty-three percent of conditions were resolved by a virtual visit. The most common diagnoses made during a telehealth visit are sinusitis, followed by cold/flu/pertussis and urinary tract infections. Only 10 percent of patients required an emergency department referral, and 17 percent went for an office visit.

The Alliance concluded that their report “illustrates that lifting the restrictions on payment for telehealth in the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program will not increase overall costs and will instead result in cost savings if telehealth visits are substituted for in-person acute care, when medically appropriate.”