With healthcare costs on the rise, telehealth is increasingly being seen as a way for healthcare organizations to save money. A March 2017 report by The Rural Broadband Association suggests telehealth use holds the potential for robust savings. While the cost savings vary by state, the U.S. national average of hospital cost savings per medical facility is estimated at $20,841. In California, for example, the annual hospital cost savings is estimated at $104,564 per facility.
According to Dr. Robert Bernstein, vice president of clinical affairs at Carena Inc., a virtual clinic provider, telehealth offers cost savings opportunities for healthcare organizations operating under the fee-for-service model, fee-for-value model or a combination of the two. In fee-for-service models, the main value comes through patient acquisition and retention. Creating the best possible experience for patients, in terms of both price and convenience, ensures that they remain loyal to your organization and return for any subsequent healthcare needs.
"A lot of health systems are in competition for customers - patients - and there's certainly a lot of the competition out there that's offering to meet the patient's needs for less cost on the patient's terms," Bernstein said. "If you're not doing that, you're going to lose those patients. They're going to go to retail clinics or independent telehealth vendors. You need to make sure you are attracting and maintaining your patient base."
Organizations under the fee-for-service model are also able to expand their consumer base to include patients in rural areas through telehealth strategies, increasing revenue, Bernstein noted.
Better care at lower costs
On the fee-for-value side, telehealth technology is a valuable tool for delivering better outcomes and quality care at lower costs, saving money for both the patient and provider. A telehealth appointment, for instance, can determine if an in-person visit is warranted. In many cases, a remote consultation is a more time- and cost-efficient way to provide an equivalent service. According to The Wall Street Journal, telehealth appointments for nonemergency reasons typically cost approximately $45, as opposed to $100 for an in-person visit at a doctor’s office or $160 at an urgent-care clinic.
"Take a parent whose child has ear pain that may indicate an ear infection, for example," Bernstein said. "It's late Sunday night and with the options that are available to them - they're likely to end up in the emergency room or urgent care. In addition to making their care more fragmented, most of the time an antibiotic isn't needed right away even if there is an ear infection and it won't help the ear pain that night, so an in-person visit isn't particularly helpful. By having the ability to talk to someone through telemedicine, the provider can say 'Here's what we're doing tonight to take care of your child tonight,' and then the patient can go into their regular clinic the next day, if necessary, where they receive better continuity of care and lower costs."
Telehealth strategies can also be used to improve care by making it easier for healthcare professionals to monitor patients with chronic conditions, said Bernstein. Through this technology, providers can connect even with patients who may not always show up for appointments, improving the continuity of care and health outcomes.
Potential cost savings for both patient and provider
Whatever model an organization is operating under, integrating telehealth strategies into the existing workflow can save money for providers and their workplaces. According to the report by The Rural Broadband Association, the savings accrued by hospitals in Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas could range from a minimum of $61,600 to as much as $101,600 annually. Much of this is the result of rural facilities being able to "share" providers through telehealth technology, the RBA reported.
These savings also translate to the patient side. In a HealthMine survey, 93 percent of patients who have used telemedicine reported cost savings as a result.
By coordinating care properly to include the use of telehealth strategies, healthcare organizations can manage patients in the most efficient and least costly manner possible.