Telemedicine could save US employers $6 billion annually

Telemedicine may be a big boost to helping employers trim their bottom line, with new analysis saying the emerging technology could save U.S. companies hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in costs.

The savings made through telemedicine use could top $6 billion per year, according to analysis by Towers Watson, a global professional service company. To achieve those savings, all employees and their dependents would need to use telemedicine services instead of in-person visits to the doctor, the emergency room or an urgent care center.

However, even just adding some telemedicine services could make a major difference, according to the analysis. 

"While this analysis highlights a maximum potential savings, even a significantly lower level of use could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in savings," Allan Khoury, a senior consultant at the company, said in the announcement.

Some hospitals are already ahead of the curve when it comes to using telemedicine. In May, Mercy Virtual broke ground on a facility in Chesterfield, Missouri, designed to consolidate its telemedicine initiatives into one building. As FierceHealthIT previously reported, the intention of the center is, in part, to reduce costs.

Towers Watson also found, in a 2014 survey on future healthcare changes, that 37 percent of those surveyed expect to offer employees telemedicine consultations for nonemergency visits by 2015. In addition, 34 percent of respondents are considering offering such services by 2016 or 2017. Of employers surveyed, only 22 percent currently offer such programs.

Reports show that the use of telemedicine will dramatically increase in the next few years. According to IHS Technology, the number of patients using such services will grow from 350,000 in 2013 to about 7 million by 2018.

However, for telemedicine to reach its full potential, there will be regulatory hurdles to overcome. For example, a recent proposal by Tennessee's Board of Medical Examiners would require doctors meet patients in person before turning to care via telemedicine. Rules like that could impede the use of telemedicine in the state and in the U.S.  

To learn more:
- read the announcement