While 87% of Americans now have health insurance, overwhelming co-pays, high deductibles and a lack of primary care doctors still stand in the way of healthcare for many.
An average GOLD level plan—one of the more expensive, “better” insurance plans—still has a deductible of $2,000 for an individual, which approximately 40% of Americans cannot afford. Thirty-five percent of Americans already struggle with medical debt despite that 70% of those struggling have insurance. And by 2025, the United States faces a potential physician shortage of as many as 52,000.
For many, new health insurance is not providing access to affordable care, and the ACA will not address the physician shortage. To bridge that gap, we must find innovative ways facilitate hassle free access to a provider that is more cost-effective. Telemedicine is a growing model that is a part of the answer.
Telemedicine, or “telehealth,” is the provision of remote access to a physician via phone or videoconference to address a health care issue. It’s not a new concept. It’s well-established in rural areas for specialty consultations, and has been widely used in many primary care practices like pediatrics as a practical matter (although most pediatricians do not bill for phone consultations).
More broadly, telehealth is gaining ground as an alternative to urgent care or the emergency department for more minor concerns like ear infections and colds. This week, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts announced that it is offering video visits to patients within two physician groups. BCBSMA Director of Network Innovation Greg LeGrow told MobiHealthNews that video visits have the potential to improve cost, access, quality, efficiency, as well as patient and physician satisfaction.
Data show that telemedicine can deliver quality outcomes comparable to in person office visits. A 2011 Center for Disease Control study showed eighty percent of adults discharged from the emergency room-meaning patients who could be treated and sent home-said they sought care at the ER due to lack of access to a primary care provider (PCP). However, the ER is also the most expensive and least efficient way to provide non-emergent care, costing from $1,500 to $3,000 on average compared to $130 to $190 for a PCP visit. A telemedicine visit can cost as little as $40.