The pandemic and the mandates to remain at home led clinicians, hospital and government administrators, and others in the healthcare field to consider telehealth as an option for patient care.
In this article, we explore the costs of telehealth and providing this service to patients and how the telehealth visit affects the bottom line for a medical practice.
What Are the Costs of Implementing a Telehealth Program?
Implementing a telehealth offering in a clinical setting can be quite costly. But it doesn’t need to be. The medical devices used during the telehealth visit will vary by the equipment needed and the clinical specialty. These costs can range up to $10,000 or higher by clinical site. Or just a few hundred dollars monthly per provider.
Telehealth software can be housed on the premises or stored in the cloud. If you choose the cloud option, it will not require a significant investment to begin the use of telemedicine in your hospital or practice.
Let’s discuss the lower cost options suitable for the smallest practice, then work our way up to the higher-priced offerings.
Some telehealth platforms currently on the market offer a subscription that is a web-based, telemedicine service for practices, ranging in price from a few hundred dollars per month per provider. This is offered as software as a service (SaaS). The SaaS applications are accessed online. SaaS applications are usually characterized as more affordable and adaptable than on-premises software and hardware combinations. As with other SaaS subscriptions, there is no special equipment required beyond Internet service, computer, or handheld digital device. You could purchase a higher quality camera to improve video quality, but it is not required for the encounter’s success.
There are more complicated telehealth applications available on the market today. Hospitals can choose rolling cabinetry or wall-mounted options with enclosed computer stations. This hardware could have an integrated PC and monitor, keyboard, mouse, video camera, and microphone.
There are also telehealth kiosks, stationary locations to access a virtual visit. These kiosks are costly and purchased only by clinics or large companies to extend healthcare offerings to pharmacy customers and employees.
Some of the applications require high-resolution, high-end digital webcams with specialized tools that allow patients to help the doctor in examining an ailment or injury. It could be tools such as a mobile ECG tool to track heart activity after the patient is released from the hospital following a cardiac event. There are also vital signs monitors, digital otoscopes, and digital stethoscopes, with more tools under development.
Many hospitals choose to install the software on computers at their facility rather than in the cloud as a SaaS application. This requires the purchase of a license, which can be costly, along with the servers or other hardware to secure and house their equipment. Any equipment on location requires a technology team to maintain it, particularly with cybersecurity a continuing and growing concern in the healthcare field.
There are SaaS platforms that are just as secure, reliable, and stable as its more expensive counterparts. In these, data is encrypted throughout the telemedicine appointment, with the application being HIPAA-compliant.
When healthcare costs are coming under increasing scrutiny, lower-cost options to offer telehealth patients are a welcome alternative to significant capital outlays on equipment.
What Does a Telehealth Encounter Cost?
After the equipment costs and software, there is the cost of the telehealth visit to consider. Is a telehealth visit more affordable than the traditional on-site patient appointment?
A study broke down the costs of a traditional patient visit as compared to a telehealth appointment.
- The average payment for an ER visit was $1,700
- The average payment for a traditional on-site doctor visit was $146
- The average payment for a telehealth visit was $79
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) stated they can save $86 each time a primary or urgent care visit is handled via telehealth versus on-site. Telehealth also alleviates the cost of inpatient stays or ER visits.
Telehealth Cost vs. Value
There are many benefits to offering telehealth software for providers. But the actual value of this technology comes from the cost savings to patients and their doctors. Patients save money because the doctor comes to them during the appointment. The costs of time off work, travel, parking and childcare can be alleviated with telehealth. One health system stated their patients saved $6.4 million yearly in travel costs by switching their on-site visits to the telehealth option.
Doctors save the overhead costs associated with offering an on-site visit. Building overhead, electricity, and clinical staff time are reduced. Physicians can skip traveling to provide care at a clinical facility which saves them travel time and costs as well.
Telehealth can also alleviate the stresses of on-call and can keep doctors at home while delivering care during a virtual visit rather than running in the middle of the night for a hospital call.
The bottom line is that there are many sophisticated, innovative telemedicine equipment available on the market today. A logical approach for the small practice would be to determine how much equipment is needed to start the telehealth practice. The more equipment that is purchased, the more training the staff will require. Healthcare providers need to exercise caution to prevent overspending on a complex telehealth system when there are cost-effective options on the market offering the same benefits as more expensive ones.
If considering telemedicine for your practice, contact the Seecure team to discuss all the options available to you to get your telemedicine service line up and running today.