direct-to-consumer

The Telehealth Cost Wars

Posted by Rene Quashie on March 22, 2017
Telehealth / No Comments

How to properly evaluate and weigh cost savings in health care has long been a controversial subject—perhaps nowhere more so than when technology-enabled health care is evaluated. A recent study is a case in point. The journal Health Affairs recently published a study that has caused quite a stir in the telehealth community. Without getting into details regarding methodology and results—best left for a more in-depth article—the study acknowledges that reimbursement for direct-to-consumer (“DTC”) telehealth visits are lower than would be the case for in-person physician or ED visits. However, the study raised two concerns. First, the researchers posited that there could be increased spending for DTC visits “if the direct-to-consumer telehealth visit is more likely to result in follow-up appointments, testing, or prescriptions, compared to similar visits to other settings.” Second, the researchers believe that DTC physicians “may be more likely to recommend that patients have a subsequent in-person visit with a provider.”  The basis for these concerns is not made entirely clear, and quite frankly doesn’t square with my discussions with DTC telehealth stakeholders.

The study also broadly concludes that DTC telehealth may lead to increased utilization as patients will seek care for illnesses for which they would not have sought care had telehealth not been available. More to the point, the researchers calculated that about 88 percent of telehealth usage represents new utilization. In other words, only 12 percent of DTC telehealth usage replaced or substituted visits to other providers. Ultimately, the study argues that DTC telehealth may increase access by making care more convenient for some individuals, and, thereby, may also increase utilization and health care spending. Continue reading…

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