Say goodbye to the days of spending hours waiting in the doctor’s office to see your primary care provider and hello to telehealth!  Telemedicine has become a growing form of healthcare over recent years and is expected to gross $4.6 billion by 2018.  In a June 2015 article from Employee Benefit News, we are introduced to this appealing concept at the forefront of health care.   Telehealth allows patients to have access to physicians 24/7 via phone calls or video conferencing.  Many companies are warming up to this concept because it will help eliminate excessive health care coverage costs for their employees and reduce absenteeism.  It has also been shown to improve employee productivity because less time is being wasted out of the office for doctor visits and fewer work days will be missed because employees will be treated sooner for their illnesses.

The American Medical Association and Wellness Council of America have shown that 75% of all emergency room, urgent care, and doctor visits are unnecessary or could have been handled safely and effectively over the phone or video chat.  Similarly, the Journal of the American Medical Association found basically no difference in the outcome of care between a telehealth physician call and an in-office visit.  There was a 90% patient satisfaction last year from employees who used the Teledoc system, the nation’s first and largest telehealth provider – with nearly 700 physicians and 300 behavioral health specialists on call.

A pilot study was launched with Discount Tire employees in 2012 and proved to be very successful among employers and employees, alike.  The number of enrollees increased from 600 to 6700 employees over 2 years.  By using telehealth, the wait time to talk with a physician is cut from hours spent in a waiting room or exam room to a mere 1-8 minutes.  Furthermore, 35-38% of people are exposed to a new virus (that they did not initially have when they came in for doctor visit) just while sitting in the waiting room.

Financially, telehealth provides savings for all parties involved.  Patients will most likely pay less for a telehealth consultation than they will for an ER visit or co-pay in a doctor’s office.  Physicians will not have to pay nurses, physician assistants, clerical staff, and office expenses because they will be working for solely for themselves.  Additionally, employers could save $6 billion each year in health care costs according to a Towers Watson analysis.

It is still essential and necessary to maintain a relationship with your primary care doctor, especially for illnesses that need specific attention or diagnoses.  It is also important to have in-person appointments with doctors each year for annual wellness check-ups.  Telehealth provides a convenient solution if a person comes down with a minor illness, like a cold/cough that may be treatable via a phone call or video chat while at work or on a weekend.  Similarly, if an illness arises during the middle of the night, telehealth can serve as a first option for medical help prior to an emergency room visit, which could become very expensive.  Overall, telehealth provides an affordable and ideal solution for immediate relief and patient care, around the clock.