Healthcare Technology Featured Article

August 11, 2014

How Today's Technology Could Yield Billions in Healthcare Savings

For many, thinking about the concept of telemedicine evokes images of a far-off future. Images similar to “The Jetsons” can be forgiven here, as that show has pretty much symbolized the future since it launched. But what's seldom considered—and recently revealed by a study from professional services firm Towers Watson—is that much of the foundation of telemedicine is currently available, if somewhat underused. Indeed, the Towers Watson study suggests that billions of dollars in savings are afoot for those who put the currently-available technology to work today.

More specifically, the study suggests that firms could save over $6 billion per year with telemedicine tools in place, but in order to get there, all employees, and all the dependents of same, would need to use the currently-available tools in place. Still, as Towers Watson senior consultant Dr. Allan Khoury points out, even if the maximum isn't realized, a lesser level of use could still realize billions of dollars saved, or potentially, millions.

This number isn't lost on the healthcare industry, either; Towers Watson's numbers are making it clear that there's plenty of interest on hand, and plans to realize these numbers are under way in earnest. 37 percent of firms are planning to offer employees telemedicine options instead of emergency room or doctor's office visits to start up by 2015, while another 34 percent are looking into it by 2017. Given that, right now, 22 percent of employers have such programs in place, that means most of the surveyed firms—and from there, likely many of those who weren't—are on board with telemedicine on one end or another.

One major new user of telemedicine, meanwhile, is Comcast, who recently set up agreements with Doctor on Demand, a telemedicine provider that allows users to get access to simple healthcare options to solve simple problems without having to hit the doctor's office for a solution. That in turn helps keep costs down by reducing the amount of physical traffic going through the doctor's office, a development that's no doubt welcome on all sides.

This is, in a lot of ways, just the start. The availability of such tools is already in place, but now, the available tools have to be put to use. Companies can help on this front by offering incentives to put such tools to work, much in the way Comcast is doing with its Doctor on Demand connections. In this way it works much like an interactive voice response (IVR) system works with phone systems. Sometimes, there are callers that only need simple answers, like what a store's hours are or what particular item is on special that day. Here, an IVR system can answer basic questions automatically, freeing up the human operators to handle other, more complex tasks. That in turn means a smoother-flowing operation, which is more efficient, and efficiency commonly leads to cost savings. We have video on this and a wide array of other topics available at this link.

Naturally, not everyone can put these tools to work the same way, but for those who do put said tools to work somehow, the end result is generally positive. As the Towers Watson study shows, there's potentially a very big upside here, and one that can be realized the more that such tools are put to use.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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