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Chasing the ROI of Telemedicine

   November 01, 2016

Cleveland Clinic's own homegrown e-hospital system "has been a wonderful technology that's afforded us some modest improvements on length of stay, and reduced mortality over time," Rasmussen says. This summer, the organization also began pilot testing virtual chronic disease management, starting with hypertension, COPD, and pediatric asthma patients, he adds.

"It will be a combination of wearables or consumer-grade devices that patients have purchased, or we supply to them, that will generate data at home and will be displayed to us by dashboard, hopefully integrated with the electronic medical record by the end of the calendar year as well," he says.

Although hard financial numbers remain a matter under study, Cleveland Clinic is no stranger to measuring patient experience, and Rasmussen says for follow-up visits with providers, patients are happier doing virtual instead of in-person visits. "We are using this strategy to drive patients with minor complaints away from brick-and-mortar to free up the primary care physicians for more chronic disease management or a way to manage matters that require inpatient visits," he says.

Perhaps nowhere is the bottom line of telemedicine's advent being felt more than at health insurance companies.

"As most people know, health insurance has not been known for being differentiated in the consumer experience side of things," says John Jesser, vice president of Anthem, Inc., and president of LiveHealth Online. "So this is really a great opportunity to create a capability for Anthem that would be remarkable."

Anthem, which currently offers telemedicine as a covered benefit to 18 million Anthem customers, was attracted by the fact that the common retail price of an online visit is $49, Jesser says. "There's a ROI right there, because if you walk into a retail clinic, you're going to spend between $80 and $90. If you walk into urgent care, it will sometimes be over $200, and the emergency room goes up from there. So the ROI for one person is immediate."

FedEx, an Anthem client, knows that at least 20% of the emergency room visits its employees make are unnecessary, Jesser says. "We've been trying to help people with solutions for this for years," he says. In exit surveys after LiveHealth Online encounters, by asking members what they would have done had the telemedicine option not been available, Anthem has determined that telemedicine is generating "considerable savings across the board, every time someone's having an online care visit." Jesser says this cost savings information will find its way into a peer-reviewed journal soon, drawing on Anthem claims data.

Scott Mace is the former senior technology editor for HealthLeaders Media. He is now the senior editor, custom content at H3.Group.

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