Study: Virtual Health Care Visits Cost Less Than In-Office Care

December 15, 2014 in News

Virtual health care visits are associated with lower costs than traditional in-office visits and could result in Medicare savings, according to a study released Friday by the Alliance for Connected Care, Modern Healthcare reports (Tahir, Modern Healthcare, 12/12).

Details of Study

For the study, researchers collected data from five telehealth companies and compared the difference in costs for care provided in various sites, including virtual and in-office visits.

Overall, the study found that telehealth visits cost between $40 and $50 on average, compared with an average estimated cost of $136 to $176 for an in-office visit. As a result, the study estimates that each virtual visit could save an average of $126 per visit (Yamamoto, Alliance for Connected Care study, December 2014).

Henry DePhillips — chief medical officer of Teladoc, a telehealth company that provided data for the study — said that savings could be even higher for older patients (Pittman, Politico Pro, 12/12).

The study also found that 83% of health conditions were resolved after a virtual visit. Of the patients whose conditions were not resolved, 10% went to an emergency department and about 50% had an in-office visit.

Meanwhile, among patients who used telehealth services:

  • 45.8% would have gone to an urgent care facility if a virtual visit was not available;
  • 30.9% would have gone to a physician’s office;
  • About 12% would have done nothing; and
  • 5.6% would have gone to an ED (Modern Healthcare, 12/12).

Implications for Medicare

The study noted that telehealth services covered by Medicare are reimbursed at the same rate as in-office care (Alliance for Connected Care study, December 2014).

Therefore, under the assumption that Medicare pays $83 for both telehealth and in-office physician visits, Medicare could save an average of about $45 per virtual visit.

According to Politico Pro, recent moves by insurer Anthem show that telehealth is becoming more common among some stakeholders as the result of its potential savings (Politico Pro, 12/12). Specifically, Anthem announced that it will provide telehealth services to many of its Medicare Advantage beneficiaries beginning Jan. 1, 2015.

Under the service, certain beneficiaries in 12 states will be able to access virtual visits without a copayment (Modern Healthcare, 12/12).

Meanwhile, some House lawmakers are working to remove legal barriers to telehealth.

However, they must convince the Congressional Budget Office that virtual care would save Medicare money (Politico Pro, 12/12).

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