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.”
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.
“The direct cost of nonadherence to doctors’ advice is estimated at $100 billion to $289 billion annually,” according to a new report from researchers studying virtual healthcare at the University of California, San Francisco working with the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.
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.
Earlier this year, UnitedHealth announced plans to roll out “virtual doctor’s visits” to nearly 1 million health plan members in self-funded plans that will have access to an array of provider networks including Doctor on Demand, Now Clinicand American Well. Other insurers are using similar vendors as well as MDLive,which has a relationship with health plans and Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA).
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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.”
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