“Telehealth” services, including virtual consultations, have been around for nearly a decade. However, the increased use of tablets and smartphones has made it an even more viable option for doctors and patients alike. One original intention of virtual consultations was to eliminate the extraneous costs that are typically associated with visiting the doctor’s office (in addition to increasing accessibility for rural patients and others for whom visiting the doctor is difficult).
Kaiser Health News (KHN) recently reported on a study conducted by Health Affairs that found despite the increased accessibility to doctors for patients, the overall costs of healthcare have changed very little. On average, telehealth visits cost only $79; however, the increased accessibility telehealth brings has caused patients to contact their medical professional about minor illnesses or ailments for which they otherwise might not have sought medical attention. According to KHN, “The researchers found that only 12 percent of telemedicine visits replaced an in-person provider visit, while 88 percent represented new demand.”
Lori Uscher-Pines, one of the study’s author, believes that there is value in the “telehealth” industry. She noted that it could be a major cost saver for individuals who use emergency rooms for minor illnesses. Uscher-Pines said, “You could take these people in the emergency department and offer them this cheaper option. That would be a direct replacement.” Overall, virtual consultations can mean savings for patients – if they do not over-utilize the service.
See more at Kaiser Health News.