Employer use of telemedicine to rise 68 percent by 2015

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What is TelemedicineGlobal professional services firm Towers Watson says telemedicine could potentially save US employers $6 billion a 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,” Dr. Allan Khoury, a senior consultant at Towers Watson, said in a statement. “Achieving these savings requires a shift in patient and physician mindsets, health plan willingness to integrate and reimburse such services, and regulatory support in all states.”

In a survey of employers at companies with 1,000 employees or more, Towers Watson found that currently, 22 percent offer telemedicine consultations as a cost-saving alternative to emergency room or primary care visits. An additional 37 percent planned to offer those services by 2015, which would constitute a 68 percent increase. And by 2016 or 2017, another 34 percent of employers said they were considering telemedicine.

That doesn’t mean all those employees will use those services. Khoury said in a statement that per-member utilization rates are currently less than 10 percent.

“Telemedicine requires that patients have access to a telemedicine service, that they actually know about that access, and that they use the service,” senior consultant Jeff Levin-Scherz told MobiHealthNews in an email. “Employer-sponsored access to telemedicine services is increasing substantially, and we are working with our clients to be sure that they communicate the value of this offering to their beneficiaries. We expect that patient demand for these services will increase as more people have friends and families who have had good experiences with these visits.”

Levin-Scherz said that Towers Watson’s analysis showed 1 in 7 primary care office visits could be addressed through telemedicine, including video visits, phone calls, and telemedicine kiosks. In a statement, Khoury suggested that was just the beginning of possible offerings.

“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,” he said. “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.”

A Deloitte whitepaper from January predicted that by the end of 2014 there will have been 100 million eVisits globally, leading to a savings of more than $5 billion. They predict 75 million of those visits will be in North America, and assert that the 100 million figure is a 400 percent increase from 2012.

“Despite 20 years of predictions that eVisits were about to become common, adoption remained low until recently,” the whitepaper reads. “In contrast, 2014 should see an inflection point in their adoption, primarily due to changes in technology and telecommunications infrastructure and also due to continued pressure to reduce medical costs and improve care.”

Deloitte puts the total addressable market for eVisits in developed countries at about $50 to 60 billion. The larger telemedicine market, which includes doctor-to-doctor consultations, remote monitoring, and alerts and notifications, is projected to be a $25 billion market in 2015.

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