For many generations, a visit to the doctor has been the standard response to mild illness or injury. When you or someone you love gets sick, the first order of business is to call your doctor to schedule an in-person visit. But today, the approach to primary care is changing.
Anyone who pays for insurance knows that costs for care have skyrocketed in recent years. As a result, many of us think twice before visiting the doctor, perhaps riding out an illness at home or seeking an alternative for care.
A recent study from the Annals of Internal Medicine points out that primary care visits among insured adults are declining in a big way, with visits between 2008 and 2016 dropping by 24%. Meanwhile, the number of adults choosing not to seek primary care appointments increased to 46%. This is especially prevalent among young adults, people living in low-income areas, and adults who do not have chronic medical issues or require ongoing care.
Why such a steep decline in primary care visits?
According to the study’s authors, it’s due to a decrease in patients’ perceived need for a doctor’s visit, the rise in medical costs and the availability of other options for care.
The Rise of Virtual Care
Why get out of bed and haul yourself to a clinic when you can receive quick, effective medical treatment from the comfort of your own home (or bed) – and at a much lower cost? The availability of telehealth options – through traditional providers, payers, employers and direct-to-consumer – has transformed the delivery of primary care.
To put a finer point on it, private insurance claims for telehealth services spiked a whopping 624% between 2014 and 2018, according to Fair Health, a nonprofit focused on price transparency in the healthcare industry.
When to Use Telehealth
While telehealth isn’t meant to replace your primary care provider, there are distinct advantages when you’re suffering from a minor illness or injury, when your doctor doesn’t have same-day availability, or when you can’t (or don’t want to) go to urgent care. In such cases, telehealth is an ideal alternative, especially for common conditions like coughs and colds, flu, fever, sinusitis, pink eye and urinary tract infections. Likewise, telehealth is perfect for minor injuries like sprains and strains, bug bites, and minor cuts and burns.
The Advantages of Telehealth
Even for people with excellent medical benefits, accessing healthcare is often difficult and time-consuming. With high deductibles and copays, long waits for a primary or urgent care visit, and the hassle of working with insurance companies, it’s truly a pain to get sick or injured.
On the contrary, accessing care virtually is fast, convenient and simple – yet the quality and outcomes are exactly the same as a face-to-face visit.
Convenience: There’s nothing worse than driving to urgent care when all you want is to stay in bed. With telehealth, patients can access care from their smartphone, computer or tablet from home (or bed).
Speed: Unlike long waits at the clinic, patients can connect with a telehealth provider in a matter of minutes. The entire visit is typically completed in about 30 minutes, so they can get on to the business of getting better.
Prescriptions: If the telehealth provider determines an antibiotic, cream or other prescription is needed, he/she will send a prescription directly to the member’s preferred pharmacy.
The Business Benefits of Offering Telehealth
The advantages of telehealth extend to employers, too.
Cost Savings: In a time when U.S. healthcare costs are skyrocketing, telehealth enables employers to offer a high-value option for medical care – without a high price tag. According to RAND Corp., a telemedicine appointment averages $79, compared to $146 for a doctor’s office visit and $1,734 for the emergency room. Add in the value of time (and hassle) saved, and it’s a dramatically better option.
Productivity: A healthy workforce is integral to a healthy bottom line. Employees who can’t easily access healthcare – or can’t take the time off work to drive to a doctor’s office or clinic – may come to work sick. This means reduced productivity and presenteeism along with the risk of spreading the illness to other employees, all of which impact the bottom line.
Implementation: Launching a telehealth program doesn’t have to mean an extra burden for HR. With MeMD’s telehealth solutions, companies can be up and running in a matter of weeks. Customized APIs streamline administration and program operations, and regular utilization reporting allows employers to evaluate ROI on an ongoing basis.