Is Telemedicine Really Effective?

Ever heard of telemedicine, or given it a try? If not, you might be surprised to learn that telemedicine (where patients get healthcare from doctors via the Internet, instead of face-to-face) is more common now than ever. According to the American Telemedicine Association, more than half of hospitals in the U.S. have telehealth programs, and the trend is growing.

Does it work?

While there is not a lot of research yet, most professionals agree that telemedicine is effective in many situations such a dermatology and primary care. It’s provides faster access to medicine, especially for patients in rural areas. It is also convenient during evenings and weekends and while traveling, when it’s hard to access traditional providers. Of course, not every situation is right for telemedicine, but for those that are a fit, the results are generally good.

The next question is whether it’s more effective (or cost-effective) than in-person care. If a telehealth visit incurred less expense than an in-office visit, it would certainly be attractive to employers and health plans. However, the evidence isn’t there yet. Surprisingly, a 2017 study by Health Affairs found that telehealth may increase access to care but does not decrease spending.

The reasons are varied. For example, if employees use telehealth services in addition to on-site care, rather than instead of it, it could actually increase the costs. Or, if patients use it more than they need to, it could raise overall health costs rather than lower them.

Should you use telemedicine?

Employees: Yes! If you have access to telemedicine, and if you’re comfortable with the overall approach, it makes sense to try it out. It may save you a lot of time or allow you to access treatment after hours. Telemedicine is a way to get quality, convenient healthcare.

Employers: Yes! Just be sure to look closely at the way the program is structured to ensure that it’s serving your team’s needs and not adding redundancy.

In short, telemedicine works, and it can bring positive results if used in a way that makes sense. Just make sure that you use it as it’s meant to be used: as a means of fast, convenient remote care when on-site care isn’t needed.