As the cost of health care increases, virtually visiting a doctor is becoming easier and more cost-effective than ever.


“Telemedicine has been more widely offered over the last five years, promoted by health plans such as Cigna Inc. and New York-based insurance startup Oscar Health,” writes Kylie Gumpert for Insurance Journal. “As many as 15 million people used the services this year, up 50 percent from 2013.”


The cost of a virtual visit can be dramatically lower than one in person, Gumpert writes, averaging $50 per exam, compared to $80 for a traditional stop in a doctor’s office. Telemedicine can help patients catch conditions early, when they’re often less expensive to treat. “Some hospitals are using telemedicine as an early form of triage for more serious conditions,” Gumpert writes.


Telemedicine will increasingly grow in popularity as wearable technology advances make it easier for patients to record and monitor their own symptoms, writes Allan Khoury for Employee Benefit News. “The technology is getting better every day,” he writes. “For example, devices already exist that can conduct other parts of the physical exam. Some capture blood pressure; others can do an ear exam.”


While more employers and health care plans are offering telemedicine as an option – sometimes free of charge to employees – one challenge could be making sure employees know about the benefit. “An internal Willis Towers Watson study on telemedicine use by employees who receive employer-sponsored health care revealed that just about 10 percent of the visits appropriate for telemedicine took place through that method,” Khoury writes. “The biggest issue may be patient confusion in deciding which care channel to use. This is not a new challenge.”


Employers and the brokers who serve them can encourage participation by emphasizing both the cost-effectiveness and quality of telemedicine options, writes Craig Hasday for Employee Benefit Adviser. “Breaking long-standing habits is hard,” he writes. “A good place to start is for plan sponsors to promote the lower costs and faster, more convenient service provided by retail clinics and tele-med services.”


Brokers and employers might offer, as an example, how telemedicine might figure into a health emergency, writes Andrew McNeil for The North Bay Business Journal. “Anyone who has ever been faced with the dilemma of whether or not to rush to the nearest urgent care or emergency room can appreciate the peace of mind (telemedicine) can bring,” McNeil writes. “After all, why spend hours and possibly thousands of dollars — depending on your health plan — for a nonemergency issue when one could simply turn to telemedicine and receive an immediate diagnosis?”