The COVID-19 pandemic spurred changes throughout the U.S. healthcare system. One of the biggest transitions was the increased adoption of telemedicine—the use of telecommunication technology to provide medical solutions remotely.
When access to care grew challenging during the pandemic, telemedicine usage soared, as more and more Americans turned to virtual care options.
Telemedicine engagement has stayed high even as the pandemic has evolved into an ongoing endemic problem, with 27.6 million Americans using telehealth in 2022, compared to 17.7 million in 2019.
It shouldn’t be that surprising that telemedicine has shown such uptake. With the rise of digital technology, telemedicine offers a wide range of advantages that can improve patient outcomes, help care providers and enhance access to healthcare for all.
Necessity may have driven the spike in telemedicine usage, but practicality, potential, convenience and cost-effectiveness are what’s keeping usage up. Robust investment in the space will keep virtual care options highly available going forward. The advantages of telemedicine will continue to benefit patients and care providers alike.
For patients, virtual care can be highly convenient. Rather than having to take time off of work, or arrange transportation to a doctor’s office, patients can simply log into a virtual consultation on their laptop or smartphone.
If you’re feeling unwell, it also can be a big relief to chat with your doctor from the comfort of your couch. Not to mention you run less of a risk of exposing others to your germs, too.
Getting sick (or having to care for family members unexpectedly) can wreak havoc on a busy schedule. Virtual care appointments can mean the difference between getting an appointment for a nagging concern today or tomorrow, instead of having to wait longer for a time at the office. This quick access to care can be particularly helpful in preventing minor health issues from becoming more serious ones.
On the caregiver side, telemedicine can improve the overall efficiency of their work days. With virtual consultations, doctors can see more patients in a shorter amount of time, reducing wait times for appointments and allowing caregivers to see more patients overall.
They can focus on online visits in a quiet space without running the risk of getting distracted going from room to room.
Doctors can also access information quickly with virtual consultations, pulling up medical records and test results online during the appointment and quickly sharing feedback with their patients.
Through the potential of digital communication tools, doctors can use telemedicine to more easily collaborate with specialists and other healthcare professionals, for further insight and opinions.
They can also schedule follow-up care more easily, to ensure treatment plans are understood (and being followed), and to make any adjustments needed.
Even before the pandemic, telemedicine had potential for some serious cost savings. In a 2018 American Journal of Emergency Medicine study of 650 patients, net cost savings per telemedicine visit ranged from $19-121 per visit. A 2017 study showed a near 50% savings per telehealth visit over a sample of 300,000 people.
More recently, a Cigna study showed virtual care reduces healthcare costs by about $100 per visit.
Telehealth also costs less than visits to an urgent care facility or emergency room.
Besides the cost of the visit itself, a virtual appointment can have other financial benefits for the patients. There are no transportation costs when you’re at home, nor do you have to worry about finding child care or a dog sitter when you’re gone.
One of the biggest advantages of telemedicine is increased access to healthcare for patients living in rural or remote areas. Rural hospital closures are a growing problem, with an ongoing labor shortage in healthcare one factor. For patients in these areas, getting care can be a big challenge.
With telemedicine, patients can fill this care gap and receive medical consultations, diagnosis and treatment from the comfort of their homes, and not have to make longer treks to see a doctor. Use cases for rural telemedicine can range from annual physicals to routine care for an ongoing illness, pre-surgical consultations to physical therapy, prescription refills to mental health treatment.
For patients with mobility issues, telemedicine can have a major positive impact on their total quality of life.
With Clearwater Benefits, all of the plans we offer include $0 telemedicine virtual care. You can get the general medicine care you need even if you can’t get to a doctor in person, without having to make a copay.
Clearwater features year-round enrollment, too, so you can get started with a plan that suits you at any time. To start your care journey with Clearwater, get a quick quote now.