Telehealth and Cost

While Telehealth certainly has plenty of detractors, studies are starting to show that such medical practices can truly be cheaper than standard medical practice (Telehealth Costs Seventy Percent Less). Granted, cheaper does not equal better. However, some is often better than none.
Within the last week CMS has started to crack down on not-for-profit hospitals that have been aggressively going after patients for unpaid bills. A great many of these bills are due to ER visits for common, everyday problems such as colds and coughs. In many areas, ER visits start out at $500 or more. That does not include any treatment, labs or other procedures. What most people do not understand is why someone would go into an ER at a cost of $500 versus a local MD at the cost of $100?
The answer is multi fold. One is a convenience factor. The doctor’s office closes after 5pm and the issue doesn’t present until later. Secondly, the ER cannot turn you away for non-payment. While there are ways for ER’s to provide a “screening”, most go much further due to liability fears. The standard physician’s office may require some payment upfront. But is there another way?
If Telehealth really is so much cheaper, can hospital systems convince patients to use it instead of the much more expensive ER? It certainly meets with the patient need for convenience in that it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Telehealth providers can provide many of the services that patients seek (i.e. prescription refills, prescriptions for minor illnesses, etc). Should the hospital system subsidize the Telehealth Service, it would also meet the criteria of no up front money. This could even be a service offered through Medicare and/or Medicaid. Ultimately, would it not be cheaper for the hospital system to lose less money on the Telehealth visit than it does on the ER visit? Perhaps we will soon find out. Medicine and healthcare are changing everyday.

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