Telemedicine saves patients time and money, study shows

stethoscope, coins and calculator
Telehealth can save patients as much as $50 per visit and recoup nearly an hour of their time.

A new study adds to mounting evidence that telemedicine can save patients two things they value most: time and money.

Patients and family members saved an average of $50 in travel costs and recouped just under an hour in time by using telehealth technology for sports medicine appointments, according to a study by Nemours Children’s Health System presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference.

The health system saw some moderate savings as well. The telehealth appointments cost approximately $24 less per patient.

“We know that telemedicine is often looked to for common childhood ailments, like cold and flu, or skin rashes. But we wanted to look at how telemedicine could benefit patients within a particular specialty such as sports medicine,” Alfred Atanda Jr., MD., an orthopedic surgeon at Nemours that led the study said in a release. “As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve and the emphasis on value and satisfaction continues to grow, telemedicine may be utilized by providers as a mechanism to keep costs and resource utilization low, and to comply with payor requirements.”

Nemours is among numerous providers and vendors that have offered free telemedicine services during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Officials told The Orlando Sentinel that the system’s CareConnect platform had as many people access telehealth services in a four-day span as it had in the last three months.  

RELATED: Telehealth’s economic impact could have broad reach in rural communities

Although the Nemours study involved just 120 patients under the age of 18, it adds to a growing body of evidence outlining the economic benefits for patients that use telehealth services. Earlier this year, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association issued a report estimating rural communities could save tens of thousands of dollars annually on travel costs and lost wages. At the same time, research has shown that although telehealth visits generally cost half as much, utilization spikes could raise costs for insurers.

But, ultimately, patient demand may drive adoption. The vast majority of families told Nemours they would be interested in future telehealth visits and 99% said they would recommend the approach other families.

RELATED: Survey—More than half of patients prefer telehealth visits to in-person care

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports providers are using telehealth technology to provide care for women with high-risk pregnancies. A Georgia obstetrician tells the newspaper that instead of sending her patients to a specialist an hour away, she’s invested $15,000 in telehealth equipment to provide patients access to specialists in Atlanta. In some cases, early interventions have saved the child’s life.

In other areas of the country, providers are investing in technology to do remote house calls for expecting mothers. Haywood Brown, the president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told WSJ telehealth is a priority for the organization because “it improves the quality of care and reduces health-care costs.