Can virtual physician visits reduce health care costs?

Dec 17, 2014 | Hospital Budgets

It has long been hoped that advances in technology could help rein in health care spending. Federal incentives for electronic health records were meant to help increase care coordination and reduce spending on unnecessary tests and treatments. However, this has not proven to be the case for all facilities. But a new study released Friday by the Alliance for Connected Care may have identified a new way technology can help control spending. 

Telehealth has long been pursued in isolated areas as a means of providing high-quality and cost-effective care to remote patients. This most recent study attempted to determine whether there would be any specific cost benefits to pursuing this type of treatment on a larger scale. 

For the study, researchers collected data from five telehealth companies and compared the difference in costs for care provided in various sites, including virtual and in-office visits. They found that telehealth visits cost between $40 and $50 on average, significantly lower than the average cost of an in-office visit, which can amount to $136 to $176. 

As a result, the report found that offering virtual or telehealth services could save patients an average of $126 per visit. 

The study found that 45.8 percent of participating patients would have gone to an urgent care facility if a virtual visit was not available. This leads to overcrowded care centers, as well as hefty facility fees added to the patient's bill that they may not be able to reimburse. 

Telehealth services could benefit facilities that are currently encountering challenges with accounts receivable management. Instead of overcrowded rating rooms weighing down patient satisfaction scores, virtual physician benefits meets patient needs without incurring bad debt.