Telemedicine has been gaining traction in the health care industry. With almost 60 percent of large employers offering telemedicine services in 2015, this could potentially save more than $6 billion a year in U.S. health care costs. For the workers’ compensation industry, this translates into higher cost savings, improved access to care, immediate triage of some injuries at work sites and faster claims closure.
Given the benefits and cost savings of telemedicine, why is workers’ compensation slow to adopt it? Resource and financial struggles with putting the technology in place is a barrier for some companies. Also, state regulations around telemedicine are raising some roadblocks. For example, in Texas, there has much debate around telemedicine regulations, some arguing the rules are in place to protect patient safety while others believe they are meant to stifle competition. Ultimately, Teledoc (the largest telemedicine provider in the U.S.) filed a lawsuit against the Texas Medical Board for unreasonable restraint of trade, and final outcomes are pending.
Delivering safe and high quality health care to patients should be top priority, and stifling innovative solutions through laborious administrative processes or hidden agendas is unfortunate. The U.S. spends 25 percent of health care dollars on administrative costs (some of the highest in the world). The GDP on health care coverage is 17.1 percent, and medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Health care spending is clearly not delivering the results we need.
As the health care population continues to expand, with more than 16 million previously uninsured now having coverage, we can’t do the same things and expect different results. Telemedicine can offer real benefits in workers’ comp. In Texas alone, more than 80 percent of the state is rural so access to medical providers may be limited or non-existent in some areas.
Telemedicine can reach people in rural, remote and post-disaster communities or when transport to a clinic is too difficult or unavailable. Imagine a family member losing her job because she has to drive a loved one back and forth to multiple doctor visits or to a clinic that may take all day navigating bus schedules, weather, child care and other obstacles. What about the transmission of contagious illnesses while sitting in a doctor’s office unnecessarily? How many health care dollars are incurred when people catch a cold or flu when waiting to see a doctor for something that could easily be handled via telemedicine, such as a medication refill?
While 16 million more patients may now have health insurance, we have to ask the harder question…have we really improved access to care? Many people will still choose not to seek treatment and receive no care at all when too many hurdles remain to access care. This results in continued poor health outcomes.
Telehealth virtual visits cost an average of 30 percent less than visiting a doctor, and visiting a physician virtually reduces minor emergency room visits, saving thousands of dollars per visit. It is no secret that the sooner an injured worker seeks care, the better the outcome. By bringing the care to the injured worker when they need it, access to care will be improved, claim costs reduced and more positive health care trends realized.