In an important step forward for telemedicine, the country’s largest health insurer, UnitedHealthcare recently announced that they are putting remote video visits via telemedicine technology on par with an in-person visit to the doctor’s office. Although they have partnered with just three telemedicine companies to provide the visits, they have effectively put their stamp of approval on the practice. This is great news for patients and providers alike.
Patients Benefit from Doctor Visits via Video
- Travel time and expense is eliminated
- Time away from work is minimized
- There is no need to worry about child care
- The wait time for a visit is reduced
- There is no risk of contracting another patient’s illness
Providers Benefit from Telemedicine
- Reduced office overhead
- Fewer no-shows and last minute cancellations
- Increased efficiency allows for more visits per day
- Clinical staff and space is reserved for more serious cases
- There is an opportunity to have flexible or non-traditional operating hours
Insurers Benefit from Video Medicine
- The cost per encounter is lower
- Patients who get care when they need it and follow-up appropriately stay healthier, consuming fewer resources
- Patients are increasingly aware of the convenience and cost savings that telemedicine provides. Offering coverage for doctor visits by video is a competitive advantage in today’s buyer-driven insurance markets.
By joining established players such as WellPoint and BlueCross BlueShield, as well as newer insurers like Oscar, United is helping to bring video visits from the novel to the mainstream. According to Peter Mueller, a healthcare industry analyst at Forrester, United’s embrace of doctor visits by video is a significant step for the healthcare industry. “There are a lot of pros to telemedicine,” he says. “Convenience is one. Access is another. Then there’s the immediacy of it, too.”
Of course, video doctor’s visits aren’t appropriate for every person or every medical issue. Some will argue that United is simply trying to cut costs at the expense of quality and personalized care. But Mueller says that type of criticism leaves out something important: “It’s not mandated, so if it’s not for you or you don’t trust it you have other options.”
The acceptance of telemedicine by a major insurer is just one more signal that the option for doctor’s visits via video is gaining widespread acceptance. This is a win-win-win for healthcare delivery in the United States.