NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Telemedicine: Improving Access, Decreasing Costs

February 4, 2015

Telehealth -- often called "telemedicine" -- uses technology to provide long-distance care and monitoring and allows the exchange of information between doctors and patients. Basically, it's bringing technology into the health care sector, with smartphones, teleconferencing, monitoring devices and more. In a new report for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Ronald Bachman, says telehealth can reduce health care costs while, at the same time, increasing the quality of care.

Telehealth is currently experiencing explosive growth.  By 2018, the telehealth market is projected to increase from $240 million in revenue to $1.9 billion, and by 2015, 500 million smart phone users will be using apps to monitor their health.

But while telehealth is convenient, can it provide comparable quality, cost, and access to care as traditional health care does? Bachman says yes:

  • Telehealth improves patients' access to doctors when they might otherwise face delays or be unable to reach a physician. It can allow patients to interact with both primary care doctors and specialists over live video, limiting the need for an office visit.
  • As for quality, a 2012 study from Johns Hopkins University concluded that telemedicine didn't just produce equal clinical outcomes to in-hospital care but, in some cases, produced better outcomes. Similarly, studies from the Rand Corporation and the University of California -- Davis Children's Hospital found that children's health care in rural areas improved thanks to telemedicine.
  • Costs are much lower with telehealth, because it removes the need for transportation and can displace the need for patient monitoring at a hospital. A 2011 study found that chronically ill patients saw between 30 and 53 percent reduction in annual health care costs thanks to telemedicine's ability to detect problems early. Similarly, a Health Affairs study found that chronically ill Medicare enrollees using telehealth saved up to 13 percent each quarter compared to their peers.

NCPA Senior Fellow Devon Herrick has spoken out in favor of telemedicine for years, saying it could restructure medical care and improve patients' access to doctors.

Source: Ronald E. Bachman, "Telehealth & Patient-Centered Care," Georgia Public Policy Foundation, February 2015.


Browse more articles on Health Issues