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A new Generation of House Calls

Posted by: Becky Sanders on Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Long gone are the days when doctors would travel around town calling upon their patients at home.  But are they really?  In a 2010 survey, 19% of American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) members were making a minimum of one house calls per week. How does that compare to virtual health care visits made by patients, who from the comfort of their own homes, connect with primary care physicians using secure videoconferencing?  Deloitte’s 2018 survey found that of the 23% of consumers who have tried it, 77% of them reported a high level of satisfaction with their virtual health care visit.  A fascinating business model, to say the least.

A February 2018 Biopharma Insights article says that Kaiser Permanente say 52% of their patients remotely in 2015 and the Veterans Administration served 700,000 veterans virtually in 2016.  But can telemedicine be used to lower the overhead for primary care by seeing patients earlier in the span of a disease and keep patients out of the emergency rooms?  When an average ER visit costs $924 in 2017 (see Becker’s Hospital Review), and an average primary care visit costs $160 (see Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health), it seems fairly simple that primary care visits are the way to go. Not so much, says a Kaiser Health News article from March 7, 2017.  The Kaiser article compares an average telehealth visit, at $79 to a comparable office visit at $146, and an emergency room visit average cost of $1,734.  The study results discussed in the article indicated that only 12 percent of the telemedicine visits actually replaced an in-person visit, resulting in new healthcare demands of 88%.  More recent articles in appearing in 2018 and 2019 Health Affairs Journals point to increased interest in telehealth and telemedicine usage throughout rural and urban areas. 

 Telehealth, as a solution to healthcare access, seems destined to stick around for quite some time.  An August 21, 2019 Fierce Healthcare article sited 75% of hospitals in the US are using videoconferencing to consult with patients or practitioners, per a February 2019 Telehealth Fact Sheet published by the American Hospital Association.  On August 19, 2019, Benton published an article, in their Digital Beat, which covered a 2019 survey by the International Economic Development Council.  The survey addressed four overarching topics: 1) the state of broadband, 2) broadband’s impact on local economics, 3) broadband-driven education and healthcare, and 4) community broadband matters. A full 42% of survey participants called telehealth ‘a major economic development issue’.  The 2019 study’s results show that ‘telehealth is becoming a greater part of the broadband planning picture. Even though telehealth is hampered in many areas because of poor broadband, especially in rural America, there are a lot of innovative apps waiting to break free of those limitations.’ The Benton article went on to discuss three possible outcomes of increased broadband and greater access to telehealth to a community’s economic benefits: 1) Reduce unnecessary visits to the ER; 2) Drawing doctors, medical professionals to the local community; and 3) More mental healthcare services could stay local. The majority of respondents (33%) indicated that telehealth options are worth testing, and 24% believe it could have a measureable impact on their local community.       

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