How Telemedicine Helps Employees Avoid Expensive Care

February 13, 2020

First Stop Health

When patients choose telemedicine, they can prevent a trip to the emergency room, saving them and their employers thousands of dollars. 

In fact, according to our 2019 data, 90% of patients avoided a more expensive care option by choosing our telemedicine. 

It’s understandable that a worried patient might go to the ER, but when they do, they often face long waits and huge copays. Their employer, too, is saddled with expensive claims. Worse, they are often no better off than if they went to urgent care or their primary care physician. 

Why Do Patients Choose the ER? 

There are many reasons a patient might resort to the ER instead of going to urgent care or their own doctor. 

For one, a patient working a 9-to-5 job may have difficulty getting time off for an unscheduled visit during their doctor’s office hours. The fact is, urgent care facilities and primary care doctors have only so many hours in a day to see patients. 

Even if the patient can leave work, their doctor might be booked up, or there might be a long wait. This is especially true where there is a shortage of primary care physicians, as is often the case in rural areas. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of up to 122,000 physicians by 2032. As a result, one might wait hours to get care for an acute illness. If scheduling an appointment for something more routine, a patient might have to wait days — or even weeks — to see a doctor. 

Clearly, patients are left with bad options: Wait to see if their condition improves, or go to the ER. 

And what about a parent awake late into the night with a sick child whose temperature has soared to 103 degrees? Scared, they rush their kid to the ER. Then they’re slapped with a huge bill. 

How Much Does the ER Cost? 

The average cost for ER treatment of a non-emergency condition is $2,032, according to data from UnitedHealth Group. That’s a lot to pay to treat something like bronchitis, a cough, dizziness, the flu, a headache or nausea. 

In fact, that ER visit costs 12 times more than treatment at a physician’s office, and 10 times more than treatment at an urgent care facility, on average. Unfortunately for both patients and employers, these kinds of ER visits aren’t rare: According to UnitedHealth Group, patients make 18 million avoidable ER visits every year. Thanks to telemedicine, this doesn’t have to happen

Telemedicine Is the Answer

Telemedicine not only saves patients from exorbitant ER copays, but also from the cost and hassle of visiting an urgent care or primary care facility. 

According to our analysis, using telemedicine saves $281 compared to urgent care, and $148 compared to primary care. According to our data, 5% of telemedicine patients would have gone to the emergency room if they hadn’t had access to virtual doctors. About 80% of patients who chose telemedicine in 2019 avoided urgent care or primary care treatment. 

Plus, telemedicine is convenient. Patients don’t need to travel to and from the doctor’s office or wait in a room full of sick people. The average wait time to speak with a doctor on the phone is less than 5 minutes. 

Telemedicine is accessible 24/7 from anywhere in the US. Sick kid at 2 a.m.? Request a virtual visit. Bad sunburn on vacation? Request a consultation. It’s that simple.

With the speed, efficiency and low cost of telemedicine, both employers and employees faced with rising healthcare costs and other barriers to timely, effective care will find this benefit a huge boon.

Originally published Feb 13, 2020 1:00:00 PM.