Telehealth Use On the Rise!

Telehealth*, which is sometimes referred to as Tele-medicine, Virtual-Health, Tele-Doc, etc., has grown to become a reliable source of healthcare, particularly during the current Covid-19 pandemic.  The virtually immediate, 24/7/365 access to healthcare is appealing to a variety of stakeholders, chief among them those that live in remote or rural areas.  A recent source found the use of telehealth increased an impressive 4,347%, or from .17% of claim types to 7.52%, during the period from 3/2019 to 3/2020.                          (Source: FAIR Health’s Monthly Teleheatlh Regional Tracker)

While telehealth has come into prominence more recently, it might be surprising to note the history of such healthcare dates back to the 1920’s!  Here’s an interesting infographic detailing the history and evolution of teleheatlh –

So what exactly is telehealth, et al?  What started out in the early days as a telephonic medium to connect patients with providers, has evolved to a more technologically advanced, mobile/digital platform.  There are two very important aspects of telehealth relative to its conduction:  1. The provider and the patient are in geographically disparate locations; and 2. Some type of technology is utilized in the process of connecting provider with patient.

It’s important to understand the type and level of care that can be provided via this technology.  Think cold, flu, bronchitis, pink-eye, ear infection, urinary tract infection…NOT heart attack, stroke, dislocated/broken bones, etc.   And with the advent of the internet and associated interface technologies such as Skype and FaceTime, virtual healthcare providers can provide an even better level of care than they could when all they had was the mere telephone at their disposal.  Look for artificial intelligence (AI) to have an increasing role in delivering telehealth.

The benefits of telehealth are numerous, and include:

  • – lower cost
  • – offers/provides healthcare access to patients residing in geographically remote areas
  • – avoids in person contact (a big deal these days!)
  • – reduction in the risk of disease transmission
  • – frees up physical medical practice locations for more urgent issues

So where does one find/access telehealth.  Most,  but not all, health insurance plans include telehealth benefits.  There are a number of telehealth providers that the major insurance companies (see Blue Cross/Blue Shield/United Healthcare, Aetna, Cigna) contract with in order to offer such coverage.  But not all telehealth services/benefits are alike.  For example, some provide coverage for mental/behavioral health.  Here are the current top 10 telehealth providers:

  1. Teladoc
  2. MeMD
  3. iCliniq
  4. Amwell
  5. MDlive
  6. Doctor on Demand
  7. LiveHealth Online
  8. Virtuwell
  9. PlushCare
  10.  HealthTap

The cost to access/use telehealth varies by health insurance plan.  The range is from $0, to a copay ranging from $10 – $40 on a traditional/copay plan, to a consult fee on an HSA Qualified plan, currently in the range of $49 – $60, which is reimbursable through an HSA.  Consult your benefit summary, summary of benefits and coverage (SBC), certificate booklet, or summary plan description (SPD) to see if your health insurance plan includes telehealth, and what the cost is to access it!  (Note: In light of the Covid-19 Pandemic, many health plans are waiving cost sharing for Telehealth services.  Check with your plan administrator, broker, consultant, or HR Director for details.)

* One final and important point on telehealth – there is a distinction between contracted telehealth provided by one or more of the aforementioned telehealth vendors, and care provided by traditional healthcare providers (e.g., physician, clinic, hospital) via a telehealth platform.  These are very different types, sources, and uses of telehealth. Again, consult your health insurance plan documents and resources for benefit details.