Telemedicine: Where Health Insurance Is Going

It’s the time of year for autumn leaves, football and health insurance enrollment.

Expect your health insurance company to push telehealth, also known as telemedicine, as part of the services offered.  Five years ago only 7% of health insurance policies offered the benefit, while today 96% of companies offer it. Patients can get quick and easy access to their health care provider for, on average, $45 or less for a visit. Not only does the insurance industry see the technology as a means of reducing the costs of health care, doctors like it too.

“It is the future in my opinion,” says emergency room physician and telemedicine specialist Dr. James Langabeer, a professor with the School of Biomedical Informatics at UTHealth. “I think we have the potential to get to double digits of 20—25% of all visits, because it makes sense. It makes sense for so many difference reasons.”

For the patient, he explains, it lowers costs, provides care when and how needed, and improves access to health care for busy professionals and parents who can’t always get away for an appointment at an office.  For providers, it enables doctors and nurse practitioners to see more patients and be more efficient with their time, a critical factor as we face a doctor shortage.  He says many basic ailments like cold or flu, which expose others to germs in a doctor’s waiting room, may best be addressed with telemedicine.  As new technology advances, hooking up patients and doctors with a computer, the original 800-number concept is diminishing.  “That I don’t see as much future for as I do for the use of your cell phone or tablet to access an app that uses video.”  Dr. Langabeer says in many instances the ability of a doctor to see and hear a patient, even remotely, is sufficient to renew some prescriptions or treat some Primary Care illnesses.  He says telemedicine enables doctors to treat more people at a cost and in a manner that benefits everyone.

Rural areas will find the development especially useful.

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