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Almost one in six doctor visits will be virtual this year

Lucas Mearian | Aug. 11, 2014
eVisits are expected to save US$5 billion this year over the cost of traditional in-office physician visits.

Those eVisits have also saved UPMC an average of $86.80 per member visit compared with the cost of an office visit.

Ultimately, Sokolovich hopes eVisits will also free up some of the pressures on primary care practices as physician shortages are anticipated grow industrywide.

A 2012 survey conducted for industry group The Physicians Foundation revealed the average age of 13,575 respondents was 54. That compares with the average age of all American Medical Association (AMA)-listed physicians of 49. Four in 10 active U.S. physicians are age 55 or older, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges.

"So we have an aging physician population. And, we know we have a nursing and primary care physician shortage," said David Collins, the senior director of the mobile community of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

"On the other side, we have an aging general population. Ten thousand people a day who are part of the Baby Boomer generation are turning 65," Collins added. "You do the math."

The cost of care
Another reason for the enormous increase in the adoption of telehealthcare is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The act places an emphasis on decreasing healthcare costs while increasing quality through standardized methods of care.

"Technology is going to be the game changer there," Collins said.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Fee Schedule, a 609-page document that details payment rules for each coming year, has for the first time dedicated a significant portion (10 pages) to how physicians should charge for telehealth or eVisits.

EVisit usage will likely be greatest in North America, where they will soon represent 25% of the addressable market, according to Deloitte.

In the US in 2010 there were 1.2 billion patient visits to physician offices, emergency departments and hospitals (for outpatient services), according to Deloitte; that's the equivalent to 3.3 visits per US citizen.

Just over half of physician visits in 2010 were to primary care doctors. Prescription refill, coughs, stomach pain, sore throat, earache and skin rash accounted for over 110 million of the office visits -- all of those requirements could have been be screened or resolved via an eVisit, according to Deloitte.

While some older patients will never be comfortable with visiting their physicians online, Collins believes the younger and more computer savvy generation will embrace it as the de facto standard.

UMPC's Sokolovich agrees.

"As the consumer becomes more aware of these platforms, they're going to start to expect them," Sokolovich said. "It will be a standard for how we access medical care for colds, coughs, pink eye and primary care-type conditions."


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