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Thanks to expanding health insurance coverage, the number of virtual video consultations between primary health care providers and their patients will double in five years in the U.S., fueling the nation’s telehealth boom, according to a new analysis.
A new report from information and analytics firm IHS says video consultations will jump overall to nearly 27 million in the U.S. market, driven by the primary care market where insurance coverage is rapidly widening.IHS projects there will be cumulative annual growth of nearly 25% a year over the next five years to 5.4 million video consultations between primary care providers and their patients by 2020 from this year’s 2 million video consultations, IHS says. “We’ve seen growth in reimbursement,” Roeen Roashan, medical technology analyst with IHS said in an interview. “There’s no doubt payers are focused on virtual consultations. They are really pushing it.”
There are however certain caveats, which include whether your insurer covers this type of virtual visit. In reality they are so inexpensive that many people would not even think about using their health insurance, especially if it does not count as a 'deductible expense'..The swinging door is still open for change.
State medical boards are 'waffleing' on the new virtual visit. Previously a clinician had to examine a person before making a diagnosis or treatment. This was assumed to a real visit. Now that we have virtual visits the standard of care must be re-visited. Certainly not all conditions will require a real visit, however for good care, some conditions patients must still be seen. A virtual visit could serve as the first step to make an appointment.
Health plans see a way for patients to get high quality care from a physician and the potential to avoid a more expensive trip to a hospital emergency room. It also may be a way to get a quick answer from a doctor about an existing treatment regimen.
“We’ve seen growth in reimbursement,” Roeen Roashan, medical technology analyst with IHS said in an interview. “There’s no doubt payers are focused on virtual consultations. They are really pushing it.”
To be sure, major health plans like Aetna (AET), Anthem (ANTM), Cigna (CI) and UnitedHealth (UNH) are expanding coverage and offering more options to employer clients.
Total numbers of virtual consults is growing 10% a year with 16.6 million this year with growth projected to hit 26.9 million including consultations with specialists in many fields including mental health and dermatology. Specialty consultations are projected to jump from 14.5 million to 21.5 million, IHS figures show.
Much, however, needs to be done to meld virtual consultations into the health care system, analysts say, as the Affordable Care Act and insurers move providers to a more coordinated approach that is value-based and moves away from traditional fee-for-service medicine.
“Even though more and more people use online urgent care for $49, there won’t necessarily be an improvement of healthcare until providers integrate virtual consultations as part of their care delivery,” Roashan says. “This will allow a much more intimate experience and most likely at a lower cost than $49. We’ve seen large providers providing complimentary virtual consults for their patient population, and . . . that’s the model we need to see more of.”
What is interesting is that payors are at the forefront of the medical economy promoting virtual medicine because overall it will save money. The data will be analyzed and hopefully the savings will be apparent.