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          Telemedicine: Your Personal Healthcare Companion

          superhero-kidIn 2014 Disney released "Big Hero 6," an animated movie about a marshmallow-y caregiver powered by technology. Among the comedy and superhero stunts, Baymax (the robot) treats various ailments that befall his patient. "Big Hero 6" brought to screen the futuristic notion of a high-tech, personal healthcare companion.

          For the users of telemedicine, that future is here.

          Telemedicine--doctor consultations via technology--gives patients the ability to obtain care from wherever they are and whenever it is convenient for them. Through 24/7/365 telephone and online access to doctors, telemedicine solutions give patients the comfort of knowing that they are not alone in their healthcare journey. For employers, telemedicine provides something more tangible than comfort: savings.

          To offset soaring costs from healthcare claims and provide convenient access to healthcare for employees, employers are rapidly adding telemedicine to their suite of benefits. Nearly a third of larger employers offered a telemedicine benefit in 2014, according to a Towers Watson analysis, “The New Health Care Imperative: Driving Performance, Connecting to Value,” and an estimated 70% of larger employers will offer a telemedicine benefit to employees by 2017.

          Diverting unnecessary and costly emergency room, urgent care and doctors’ office visit claims to more economical telemedicine consultations can add up to big savings. An in-depth cost analysis by Dale Yamomoto of Red Quill Consulting, “Assessment of the Feasibility and Cost of Replacing In-Person Care with Acute Care Telehealth Services,” reported that telehealth can save $100 or more per visit. While that number varies considerably depending on the model of telemedicine and the type of in-person care diverted, it’s clear the impact is significant. According to Towers Watson, telemedicine could generate $6 billion annually in healthcare savings to U.S. companies.

          In addition to the cost savings in avoided healthcare claims, individuals and employers realize productivity gains. The time savings translate to productivity gains for employers. This, compounded with the savings from diverted visits, further validates the rapid adoption of this new model of care and benefit offering.

          The real “big hero” for employers is a solution that utilizes technology to reduce unnecessary and costly healthcare claims. Unlike the fictional personal healthcare companion, Baymax, whose cost would presumably be close to that of a Stealth bomber, telemedicine is something individuals and employers can afford to purchase, especially if the telemedicine provider guarantees the savings generated from avoided visits exceeds the investment in the benefit.

          Telemedicine does not wear a cape, fly, or have super-human strength, but it increases access to high-quality care and generates savings to companies--a feat some might say is, in fact, heroic.

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