Replacing in-office consults, urgent care use, or emergency room visits with telehealth consults for common acute conditions can save more than 50% of typical costs, says a study presented by the Alliance for Connected Care. Issues such as sinusitis, urinary tract infections, and sore throats can be handled in a cost-efficient way through telehealth technologies, even though adoption of these methods remains limited among patients and providers.
“The market for acute care telehealth services is growing rapidly, but is still relatively nascent,” writes author Dale Yamamoto in the study. Despite increasing consumer demand for telehealth, and the beginning of interest from commercial health plans in adding remote consult services to their preventative and acute care strategies, only one to two percent of eligible patients currently engage in the service.
The study, which collected data from commercial telehealth vendors and compared that information to costs incurred by Medicare and private insurers, found that the use of a telehealth service, which usually costs between $40 and $50 per visit, can produce a cost savings of anywhere between $136 and $176 dollars typically spent on an in-person visit. Patient issues, which are usually lower-level complaints, can be resolved in one session in 83% of telehealth visits. The vast majority of patients only use one telehealth visit per year, and are most often diagnosed with sinusitis, a cold, or the flu.
The data indicates that a telehealth visit would have to cost at least $83 to make it inefficient to treat a Medicare patient who would otherwise do nothing about their symptoms, which falls well above the average expense through a dedicated service. “To result in additional costs to the Medicare program, more than a third of patients (32.8 percent) would have to decide to use seek a telehealth visit instead of doing nothing to treat their condition,” Yamamoto says.
To read the full results from the analysis, click here.