"People can understand the ability to talk to a doctor remotely, but there’s a mental leap to 'Oh, this is how I can get my medical care as well!'"
Telehealth can be an incredible tool for patients who live in rural areas, and can’t easily get to health care providers or specialists. But based off his company’s analysis, Brodie Dychinco says adoption is often higher among urban populations.
“There’s definitely tech savvy people in Seattle and Portland, and within Utah there are areas of Salt Lake City they call the ‘Silicon Slopes’,” he told Healthcare Analytics News™. “There is appeal to those that are looking for more digital options.”
Dychinco is the general manager of convenient care and delivery for Cambia Health, the parent company of insurance group Regence. Regence covers Utah, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Washington. This week, it put out a report indicating that—no matter who is taking advantage of telehealth—it seems to be saving the system money.
Regence has more than 1.5 million patients across those states, and it offers telehealth appointments both from local providers and from national services like MD Live and Doctor on Demand. Using years’ worth of claims data, surveys, and literature reviews, it determined that telehealth appointments saved patients $100 per visit on average.
They found that 4 out of 5 telehealth appointments—either via video conferencing or standard phone call—replaced what would have been a trip to a medical facility like an urgent care center or emergency room. They also found that 95% of those appointments did not require an additional in-person visit within the next 7 days. The remaining 1 out 5 appointments didn’t replace anything at all—the patients reported that they’d have just skipped out on treatment entirely, which itself can lead to increased costs for healthcare.
From those findings, they determined that patients saved $75 in out-of-pocket costs per appointment. The other $25 had a lot to do with convenience: Factors like lost wages, miles travelled, parking fees, and vehicle wear-and-tear are all part of one’s medical expenditures, but not covered by their insurance. Those additional costs could rise as wages and fuel prices do, Dychinco said.
The problem right now, he said, was a lack of awareness. One reason why, at least early on, the practice might not be getting adopted at the same rate in rural areas where it can also provide very clear benefits is that employers are key in encouraging it use. Many of the telehealth users that Regence found were employees of large companies that actively encourage use of the services. As simple as a video chat or phone call can be, some patients just need to have the option endorsed and legitimized.
“People can understand the ability to talk to a doctor remotely,” he said, “But there’s a mental leap to ‘Oh, this is how I can get my medical care as well!’”