It has been said that every cloud has a silver lining. It might be hard to find that silver lining in some cases, but it’s there if you look for it. In the case of the COVID pandemic, there is at least one: insurance companies now covering telemedicine visits.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the number of companies covering telemedicine services jumped 20 percentage points between 2019 and 2022. That is an impressive jump, especially given that telemedicine was barely on the radar prior to COVID’s emergence.
More companies offering telemedicine coverage is obviously good for employees. Ultimately, it will probably also prove beneficial to insurance carriers and healthcare providers as well.
Originally a Medicare Thing
Telemedicine became a necessity when COVID closed primary care offices and forced hospitals to shut down everything but critical services. Meanwhile, Washington stepped up and changed Medicare’s rules so that the government-run insurance program would cover telemedicine visits.
Congress got in on the act by codifying Medicare coverage for telemedicine in several emergency bills passed during the pandemic. Here’s where it gets really interesting: private insurance companies followed suit as they normally do when Medicare sets the standard.
It is entirely possible that the temporary rules put in place during the pandemic could eventually lapse and Medicare return to limited coverage for telemedicine. But that is not likely to happen. The chances are pretty good that Congress will make the rule changes permanent.
Telemedicine for Primary Care
Although telemedicine offers applications far and wide, there are two key areas in which it is a true game-changer. The first is primary care. The vast majority of primary care visits involve little more than discussions between doctor and patient. Furthermore, those discussions do not tend to last more than 10 to 20 minutes. Rare is the occasion when a visit with the GP requires anything more.
GPs and patients alike discovered during the pandemic that they could just as easily have their discussions by way of video chat. Lo and behold, video chat is still an effective tool even with the pandemic now officially over.
Telemedicine for Psychiatric Care
The other area in which telemedicine can be a game-changer is psychiatric care. Psychiatric visits are similar to primary care visits in the sense that they are conducted mainly as discussions between doctor and patient. Psychiatrists and their patients can just as easily chat online.
Good for Carriers and Doctors
Telemedicine is a more efficient way to conduct doctor-patient visits. Where face-to-face discussions are not necessary, forcing a patient to come into the office is inefficient. It is not optimal for patient, doctor, or insurance carrier.
From a carrier’s standpoint, Dallas-based Benefit Mall says telemedicine is a much more efficient way to deliver primary care. As a general agency that focuses on broker services, Benefit Mall suggests that greater efficiency only improves an insurance carrier’s bottom line.
From the doctor’s perspective, being able to visit with patients online means fewer patients waiting their turn out in the waiting room. It means less of a backlog in the office and more time to spend with each patient.
Good for Patients, Too
In closing, let us not discount the fact that telemedicine is good for patients, too. Visiting with a doctor online means not having to commute to and from the office. It means not having to take a significant portion of your day and dedicate it to seeing the doctor.
The COVID pandemic forced a lot of negative consequences on society. But it offered some silver linings. One of those silver linings is insurance coverage for telemedicine.