Internet-based virtual doctor visits and telemedicine health services are increasingly gaining acceptance among consumers. Just witness yesterday's $125MM acquisition of Scottsdale, AZ-based HealthiestYou by Teladoc as proof. In fact, it's estimated that there will soon be more than one million patients worldwide seeking online doctors instead of using traditional hospital visits.
This hard to ignore growth could place further pressure on doctors to update their health IT infrastructure and allow them to compete in the online medical space. Online doctors could help alleviate the cost of healthcare and improve the affordability of providing healthcare-related employee benefits. Many patients are opting for more informal online video meetings with their doctors in order to fit a doctor’s “visit” into their busy schedules.
Why Are Online Doctors Gaining Popularity?
Even though many online doctors do not accept health insurance, they still remain popular with global medical consumers. One of the primary reasons is the low cost associated with a virtual doctor visit. This makes the online option more accessible to a wider array of people. In the United States, for example, virtual doctor consultations are very affordable, averaging between $40-$80 per visit. (And for many employees, this cost is picked-up by astute employers who realize it's a great way to deflect an otherwise costly alternative route of care.)
Another reason that these online doctors are gaining popularity is the convenience factor. Instead of having to make an appointment and travel to your doctor, you can stay in the comfort of your own home and simply log in for your visit. This is an especially important consideration for busy people, as traditional doctor trips might not fit into their schedules.
The Pitfalls of Relying on Virtual Doctors
The reliance on online doctors is not without its pitfalls. Virtual doctors do not have access to detailed medical histories of their patients, nor do they necessarily have complete medical records listing allergies or current prescriptions. An in-person visit allows doctors to catch things that a web-based meeting might not. Something as simple as a yellow discoloration of the patient's eyes might be missed if the patient's camera is not sufficiently high-resolution. An over-reliance on symptoms as presented over the Internet can result in online doctors giving a wrong diagnosis. It’s harder to build a doctor-patient relationship with virtual visits, and care quality can suffer when visits are infrequent or only done remotely.
When Does Paying for Online Doctor Visits Make Sense for a Company?
A company’s benefits administrator can help reduce costs and improve employee health by shifting some of their health care benefits to online health providers. In the past, people have called hospitals and doctor’s offices to speak with an on-call nurse when they have minor health concerns, though most tend to book an in-office appointment. Virtual doctors present an even easier and more reliable way to check on medical problems that don’t warrant an ER visit (nor a trip the doctor).
- Some routine checkups make more sense for a quick video conference than an in-person doctor’s visit. For example, prescription refills or a consultation on managing a medication’s side effects can just as reliably be carried out in a virtual setting.
- An online doctor’s visit can be done on-site, alleviating the need for an employee to take time off from work. This helps reduce stress and hassle for the employee, while also improving productivity for the company.
So, Should You Go Virtual with Your Company’s Health Needs?
As shown above, there are a lot of reasons to go virtual.That said, there are some pitfalls which do need to be taken into account. With Doctors' visits become more and more expensive, not to mention disruptive and inconvenient, having the option of a quick online visit can be very helpful.
That said, there will never be a true substitute for having symptoms checked in-person, so employers should make sure to understand that telemedicine should be considered as additive to their care options, not in lieu of other means of care. In this way, everyone has the choice to save time and money, but workers can also make the trip to see a doctor if dire health problems arise.
If you want to learn more about how to effectively deploy telemedicine in your company, please give us a call. We'd love to talk you through some options and model-out some potential cost savings.