by Jordan Roberts
Director of Government Affairs, John Locke Foundation
Yesterday on the blog, I wrote about a doctor in North Carolina who treated an astronaut at the International Space Station via telemedicine. This example shows just the potential of telemedicine in the U.S. health care system. Another area that telemedicine has the potential to be very beneficial is in the chronic disease management space. These chronic issues can be some of the most challenging and most expensive to treat. An article from BenefitsPro looked at how large employers are utilizing telemedicine:
It should come as no surprise then that nearly 60 percent of employers now offer virtual care as a standard benefit for employees, owing to its time and cost effectiveness, and high patient satisfaction. Clinical telemedicine continues to grow and expand beyond its initial intention of treating simple, straightforward acute care complaints. We are now witnessing the emergence of specialty telemedicine and its utilization for chronic disease management (CDM) — the most prevalent and resource-consumptive health conditions.
Large employers have been the fastest and most notable adopters of telemedicine—from 27 percent in 2015 to 63 percent in 2017, and 82 percent in 2019. Among employers with 50 or more employees that offer telemedicine services, 48 percent use incentives, such as lower cost-sharing — the share of costs covered by insurance that the member pays out of pocket — to encourage its use.
I recently wrote about steps self-insured employers could take to reign in health care costs. Telemedicine is one of those crucial areas where if adopted and utilized correctly, could help those with chronic diseases better manage their conditions and lift a significant burden off of employers and the health care system:
Currently, chronic illnesses account for roughly 75 percent of all physician visits, 80 percent of all hospital admissions and 90 percent of all prescriptions. These numbers will only grow as 50 percent of all Americans are projected to suffer some form of chronic illness by 2025, ranging from COPD to HIV. The management of these conditions requires continuity of care, specifically continuous monitoring and feedback, to ensure that the patients can avoid the disease- associated morbidity and mortality, thereby improving, or at least maintaining, the patient’s quality of life.
Telemedicine and telehealth can improve continuity of care for people with chronic illness by simplifying disease management and making it more accessible and efficient. Patient’s care plans can be streamlined and ordered daily, providing easy access to required care components. Telehealth tools can serve as a source of information and advice for questions that arise. Health information is easily stored and processed, allowing patients to have constant access to their health data. Additionally, care teams can coordinate care for a shared client using a portal with streamlined communication, rather than relying on traditional health records or communication tools, which are often inadequate or incomplete.
As I talked about in the blog post yesterday, the regulations placed on the use of telemedicine will be essential to its uptake and impact. With new technology, the regulations tend to come retroactively and stifle the innovation of a new product. Specifically, with telemedicine, its genius is that it allows different people to be connected in ways not previously used. Licensing laws are one regulation that limits the reach of telemedicine. We need to make sure anything meant to regulate telemedicine allows the practice to be used as openly as possible and doesn’t hinder the use of this practice in any way.