According to a survey from Rock Health, 46% of consumers use three or more categories of digital health tools. The survey also found that nearly 70 percent of people appreciate getting texts or emails from healthcare providers. Eric Topol, digital medicine researcher, and author, has said repeatedly that smartphones will transform healthcare. “It may just mean that the best way to cut the ever-increasing costs of healthcare around the world will be to provide cheap smartphones with Internet service to those who otherwise could not afford to buy them.” In a 2015 online prescient article, the Harvard Business Review wrote that, “in a few years, the idea of receiving medical treatment exclusively in a doctor’s office or hospital will seem quaint.”
In 2013, there were 350,000 patient users of telemedicine. According to a 2014 IHS Market Technology Report, that number was projected to increase 20 times to an estimated 7 million this past year.
In 2016, at Salesforce’s annual Dreamforce conference, Bernard J. Tyson, the CEO of Kaiser Permanente, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans (with 11.8 million members), announced that more than half of their patients had been seen virtually as opposed to an in-person appointment.
There are good reasons that explain telemedicine’s growing prominence and popularity. Telemedicine offers clear benefits, both for cost savings and convenience. From a cost perspective, telemedicine provides an average of $141 savings vs. an office or urgent care visit and $2,561 savings vs. ER visit for nonemergency issues. This is particularly compelling since the average individual health premium has increased 99 percent since 2013 and the average family premium 140 percent over that same time period.
The convenience factor is just as big of a motivator for the myriad conditions that do not require a trip to the emergency room. For example, instead of waiting on hold with a doctor’s office to make an appointment for later in the week (if you’re lucky), and then taking time off from work to pick your child up at school for a doctor’s appointment, you can use telemedicine.
Of course, having a cost-saving, convenient option like telehealth is one thing. But making sure members utilize it is another. CoreSource’s Digital Savings Solution uses targeted messages and reminders are specifically constructed to reduce confusion and help members realize they have a range of resources available such as telehealth.
Telebehavioral Health As Well
There is a clear unmet need for increased access to care for individuals with mental health problems. In 2015, the Health Resources and Service Administration found there were more than 4,000 mental health professional shortage areas in the country; each state had at least one area. Mental Health America’s annual survey showed that 56 percent of people with a mental illness did not receive treatment.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 45 percent of those untreated cite cost as a major barrier to care.
An upfront investment in treating mental disorders can have a massive impact in reducing the overall cost of chronic conditions. The American Hospital Association has found that patients with a chronic illness and untreated depression have monthly healthcare costs that average $560 higher than those with just a chronic disease.
Telebehaviorial health gives patients who feel a stigma when they go to a psychiatrist’s office the chance to receive the same care from the comfort and convenience of their own home or wherever they are. That’s why Eric Hall, Chairman of Alzheimer’s Global Initiative, wrote on HuffingtonPost.com that, “telehealth leaves us with no excuse not to find the help we need for body and soul no matter where we are in the world.”
Topol, in am in the Wall St. Journal wrote, “the medicalized smartphone is going to upend every aspect of healthcare.”
Taking full advantage of this transformation starts with recognizing that new tools and solutions are often just a click away. Armed with the right tools and supported with regular, targeted engagement, consumers can make a real difference in their healthcare bottom line.