For many families in the United States, insurance is inaccessible or too expensive. Without insurance, they may forgo medical care they need, including life-saving medications. It’s concerning that in one of the richest countries in the world, people still die of treatable illnesses. This is a serious issue that must be addressed.
Where many approaches have failed, telehealth aims to succeed. Telehealth uses video and audio technology to connect patients and physicians. It has shown early promise as a cost-effective and efficient way for people to receive healthcare. Some telehealth providers are even able to serve those who don’t have insurance. Here are a few ways that telehealth brings healthcare to the masses, whether or not the patients are insured.
Easier Prescription Ordering
Over 50% of Americans take at least one type of prescription medication. Refilling these prescriptions isn’t only a hassle, it can take a big bite out of your budget — even with insurance. That’s especially the case if you have to visit a doctor’s office whenever you need a refill. This is just one of the many problems that telehealth is addressing.
A physician you visit online can prescribe many medications you need. Securing birth control, for example, doesn’t always necessitate an exam the way it used to. It can be prescribed and purchased online. Gone are the days of calling your local pharmacy and waiting in line to receive your next dose.
Access to More Providers
If you live in a city, you may not know that some people face a medical service desert. But it’s true — depending on where you live, you may have a hard time finding medical care. If you’re uninsured, this shortage becomes even more pronounced.
What if the closest medical facility that will serve the uninsured is a four-hour drive away? Telehealth gives people access to doctors with fewer geographic limitations. Thus, you’re more likely to find providers who work with the uninsured or under-insured.
One of telehealth’s more immediate impacts will be felt in the mental health field. About 37% of Gen Zers say they are receiving treatment or help for their mental health. Mental health concerns are common, but not all insurance policies offer the coverage people need to make mental healthcare affordable. Virtual counseling can make this care more available to those in need.
Lower (and Fewer) Expenses
A 2017 study published in Health Affairs sheds some light on the future of telehealth and its financial impacts. The telehealth industry changes rapidly and has the potential to make healthcare more affordable and accessible.
For example, data from the study shows that the average in-person doctor visit for a respiratory illness cost $146. In comparison, a telehealth visit for the same illness had an average bill of $79. This may be because there’s less overhead in a virtual space than in a physical one.
Other time and cost-saving factors include transportation and time away from work. With telehealth, patients don’t have to drive to a physical location or take half a day of sick leave to see their doctor. For the growing ranks of remote workers, virtual appointments are especially convenient. People can jump from a meeting to a doctor’s appointment in minutes.
Prompt Care Improves Results
In a 2019 American Well survey, 70% of respondents said that they were delaying care for a health problem. One reason patients put off seeking care was because of how long it took to see a doctor. At the time of the survey, the average wait time to see a primary care provider was 21 days.
When health problems are ignored, there’s a chance they’ll worsen. Then that problem might require even more intervention, meaning it will likely cost more money. The bill can rapidly grow, which is overwhelming for those without insurance.
In contrast to in-person care, telemedicine appointments can often be made for the same day. Even a quick consult can put you on a path to getting better. That might, in turn, eliminate future bills you may not be able to afford.
Competition Drives Down Prices
Many economists agree that greater competition in a capitalist market leads to lower prices for the consumer. Sadly, there haven’t been many price drops as private healthcare companies compete. In the telehealth field, though, competition could be great for consumers. More companies entering the mix should lead to more affordable rates as they jockey for patients.
Telehealth will make the healthcare field more competitive than ever, especially if Congress permanently relaxes the geographic limits it suspended during the pandemic. Then instead of deciding between two local doctors you don’t like, you could access medical support from across your state. This means you could find help for the right price, and get care from someone you’re more comfortable with.
Innovation in Healthcare
The bottom line is that telehealth is demonstrating that change in the healthcare market really is possible. Americans don’t have to settle for the same inefficient healthcare system of the past. They can get help faster, even when they don’t have access to insurance. Telehealth opens the doors for additional innovation.
The possibilities for further improvements are exciting. Sensor-enabled apps that allow individuals to track health indicators (blood pressure, heart rate, blood glucose levels, etc.) at home can integrate well with telehealth. These patient-monitoring systems can send notifications to providers when they detect warning signs for certain conditions. This enables doctors to detect illnesses in their earliest stages and begin treatment promptly.
Some people are concerned about the data collection telehealth already engages in. However, regulations often have to catch up with innovative fields. Online medical appointments may be the future of healthcare. Lower costs, higher accessibility, and more innovation certainly make it an appealing one.
Telehealth offers great advantages, especially to the uninsured. Finding medical care can be arduous and anxiety-producing. Thankfully, an online platform can make it easier for you to take care of yourself.
Not having access to insurance shouldn’t prevent anyone from getting the medical attention they need. Telehealth can help ensure that people aren’t slipping through the cracks. Telehealth is easier to budget for and fit into your schedule. Now you have fewer excuses not to see the doctor.