Healthcare News & Insights

Major payor is jumping on the telehealth bandwagon — why you should too

Telehealth’s push into mainstream medicine just took a big step forward as one insurer’s plan expands remote care for its members. 

ThinkstockPhotos-173714648Many hospitals have held off on providing telehealth services because getting those services reimbursed can often be a struggle.

But that’s quickly changing.

The fact that telehealth helps providers cut costs and improve the convenience of care is leading  some private payors to add more coverage for different services.

Case in point: In an effort to spur on implementation, a major payor is expanding its telehealth coverage.

UnitedHealthcare expands coverage

As Wired reports, UnitedHealthcare recently announced it would be partnering with three telemedicine companies and will begin covering telehealth services as in-person services to its beneficiaries.

The companies, NowClinic, Doctor’s on Demand and American Well, connect patients to random providers through video chats via mobile apps.

UnitedHealth is only offering coverage for self-funded members for now. But it plans to expand the coverage to all members by next year as a way to further cut down on patients’ use of emergency care to treat minor issues.

Now, that payors like United are taking steps to encourage telehealth, hospitals that have been reluctant in the past may want to start reconsidering how to leverage telemedicine technology themselves.

For example, American Well has recently partnered with the Cleveland Clinic and Massachusetts General to help them treat more serious conditions like cancer and heart disease.

Leveraging telehealth

As FierceHealthIT reports, another example of how hospitals are implementing telehealth comes from California-based Dignity Health Woodland Memorial Hospital.

Dignity Health originally had one intensivist to monitor patients in its Intensive Care Unit. However, the demand for attention in the ICU was too much for one person to handle, and the facility didn’t have the budget to hire enough intensivist to give everyone full-time monitoring.

Instead, Dignity Health found an effective, cost-efficient solution by launching a teleICU program, which provides around the clock access to an intensivist.

As Kevin Vaziri, the facilty’s president says, “It was not a replacement, but it was a complement to the local team. We had the power of 16 teleintensivists, so patients had access to an intensivists 24/7 at the bedside.”

As a result, Dignity Health has seen improvements in outcomes and patient satisfaction, including a 60% drop in mortality rates, a 40% drop in emergency room transfers and a 10% drop in ICU transfers.

Like Dignity Health, hospitals should evaluate their patient mix and operations to consider how best to use telehealth.

For example, many providers use remote care technology to help patients manage their chronic conditions. Similarly, Doctor on Demand’s most frequent users tend to be working parents, who often have questions about their child’s health but don’t have the opportunity to take off work for a regular doctor visit.

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