Could telemedicine change your approach to healthcare?
It’s 11 p.m., and you are woken by the sound of crying. A peek into your son’s bedroom confirms your fears: he’s sitting up in bed, holding his ear, and in tears. You’ve been here before — this isn’t the first ear infection he’s faced. You know the quickest path to a painless night and quality sleep is a prescription, but at this hour, both your pediatrician and urgent care center are closed. Do you panic and count the hours until the morning, or do you revert to your smartphone? These are the instances I am thankful and a firm supporter of telemedicine, also known as telehealth.
Far more personalized — and accurate — than a frantic query of symptoms in a search engine, telemedicine connects a patient and a health care professional through a secure video connection for a consult, diagnosis, and treatment anytime, anywhere. I have two kids, and when an ear infection strikes, I can have my kids seen, diagnosed, and a bottle of amoxicillin waiting for me at the drive-thru pharmacy in less than an hour.
With groceries, clothing, mortgages, and vacations all available with a few taps on a smartphone, it’s not surprising that telemedicine is becoming a welcome online convenience. In fact, like most other digital trends, it’s growing — fast. In 2013, 350,000 patients across the United States used telemedicine. That’s on track to be 7 million by 2018.
Through programs offered by a provider, health system, or a health insurance organization like Independence Blue Cross (Independence), patients can download an app to their phone to securely connect with a provider instantly, anytime and anywhere. Just like that, you can get face time with a medical professional. Most services can prescribe medications, set up any necessary lab testing, and send a synopsis of the “appointment” to the patient’s primary care physician.
That last part is key. Telemedicine should not be seen as a replacement for regular visits with your primary care physician. Instead, it’s a convenient alternative when you need help quickly, but don’t require the ER. If it’s a weekend or late at night, if you are traveling, or if you want assistance quickly and don’t want to drive to a local urgent care center, telemedicine can give you peace of mind. Studies have shown telemedicine is a great resource for recent hospital patients. In fact, after telemedicine services were used by the Veterans Health Administration post-cardiac arrest care program, hospital readmissions decreased by 51 percent for heart failure and 44 percent for other illnesses.1
That said, telemedicine isn’t for everyone. For example, patients and groups in large cities with a multitude of qualified medical practices and facilities may prefer the all-hours access just outside their door than a virtual visit. However, groups with members in remote areas or who travel frequently may consider telemedicine coverage as a truly helpful lifeline for their employees — perhaps that’s why the three states with the highest telemedicine adoption rates are Alaska (75 percent), Arkansas (71 percent), and South Dakota (70 percent).
Telemedicine should not be used instead of urgent or emergency care when such care is needed. If the patient is having trouble breathing, bleeding heavily, cannot move, or has another serious symptom, seek in-person medical care at an urgent care center or emergency room. You can use this helpful urgent care vs. emergency room checklist to determine if urgent or emergency care applies to your situation.
Here at Independence, we see the value telemedicine can provide to our groups and to our members. Listen to learn more about how we have made it a part of our comprehensive offerings:
For more information on adding telemedicine as a covered benefit for your group, contact your account representative or broker.
1 The Promise of Telehealth For Hospitals, Health Systems and Their Communities, TrendWatch, January 2015