What seemed like the last alternative for individuals, doctors and nurses just two years ago has become a lifeline over the last year.
Telemedicine use has ballooned over the course of the last 12 months because of the limitations that have been place on some of the face-to-face consultations, treatments and recommendations due to the coronavirus and it will continue to grow in popularity long after COVID-19 ends, according to health care benefits providers.
Spencer Olson, partner and shareholder for Grandville-based BHS Insurance, a full-service insurance provider, said prior to COVID-19, the participation rate was less than 5%, but that figure has jumped to more than 50% with the advent of the pandemic. The increase in the participation rate is heavily driven by mental health services, he said.
As telemedicine and telehealth grow in popularity, it is expected to account for 440 million visits in 2021.
“The telehealth market is expected to nearly quadruple this year — from $45 billion to $175 billion,” said Jasmine Piggott, BHS benefits specialist.
Pat Dalton, who also is a partner and shareholder of BHS Insurance, said telemedicine has proven to be time-saving and cost-effective for both employers who are paying for health insurance and employees who are using health insurance.
“A typical doctor’s visit is between $125 and $130 and a virtual visit is about $50, which is just for primary care,” he said. “If someone can be treated for migraine headaches, they’ll go to the urgent care because they don’t have a primary care doctor. That urgent care visit is going to be between $200 and $500. If the urgent care isn’t open, and that same person with that migrain headache goes to the ER, now that ER visit is between $500 and $1,000. That is the big differential, the cost of health care and why virtual doctor’s visits are so much more affordable. It also saves time because you can do this right from your own house, sitting at the kitchen table and have that conversation with your health provider and within 15 minutes you are done.”
Olson said having virtual doctor visits instead of going to the emergency room proves to be beneficial for employers, too.
“When employers are looking at their claims experience, they see all these emergency room visits for things that are not urgent,” he said. “If employers can get their employees to start using virtual visits for (medical issues that are not serious) and they just need a prescription, then employers definitely want to drive their employees that way because it saves on the claims spent, which in turn helps lower prices and rates that the employer gets charged and that get charged back to the member. So, it doesn’t only benefit the employer, it benefits the members, too.”