Telemedicine or Telehealth—depending on what you call it—is an amazing service. What was once a revolutionary concept is now in practice in over 90% of large businesses. Telemedicine is no longer a “good idea”, it’s here to stay. But this isn’t a blog on why telemedicine is growing or why it should be included as part of your benefit design. No…this a story on why Telemedicine is going to change the world. Buckle up.
One Giant Leap
In the summer of 1969 the United States’ Apollo 11 successfully became the first moment any human stepped foot on the moon. It was a really big deal. We all felt a little more connected to this giant universe. Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. walked on the lunar surface for 21.5 hours while the world watched in amazement. And it was monumental. Armstrong put it best when he broadcasted to the world, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
The Cost of Space Travel
The idea behind the moon landing was that it would be an accomplishment for mankind unlike anything else before. President John F. Kennedy addressed Congress in 1961 with the following words, “No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.” President Kennedy knew that the expansion into space would be expensive and daring, but worth it. The future depended on the first step.
As a result of Apollo 11, we now have the CAT scanner, microchips, cordless tools, ear thermometers, insulation, memory foam, satellite TV, smoke detectors, and more.
When corporate healthcare was first offered, healthcare wasn’t cheap, but it was the cost of a better life. As a result of that investment, healthcare has advanced. Like the evolution of NASA technology, healthcare’s technological developments are breathtaking. We live longer as a result of the ever-advancing medical landscape. Yet, the fact remains that as medical technology increases our household contribution also increases. If you want better care tomorrow, I’ll cost you more tomorrow. Living longer is an expensive business…a profitable business.
To look at inflation differently, let’s think about how many days we have to work to pay for our healthcare. In 2012, a worker would have to work 467 hours (58 days) to pay for healthcare expenses ($8,943). Compare this to 1958 when a worker would only have to work 118 hours (15 days) to pay for their healthcare expenses ($194) for the year. More of our paycheck is going to healthcare than ever before.
Since our moon landing in 1969, the cost of exploration has decreased. For $250,000, Virgin Galactic will take you to the upper atmosphere and outer space. While in 1969, the cost of two people jumping on the moon was 25.4 billion.
“No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
So why isn’t healthcare technology doing the same? Why aren’t better medical advancements making treatment cheaper? Technology in theory should make us more efficient and better consumers. Yet unlike laptops, televisions, and cars—we haven’t cracked the code on cost when advancements are made.
But there is one solution that is obvious—Telemedicine. The cost of an in office visit primary care visit can range from $150 to over $300 depending on services. The average cost of a cash Telemedicine visit is $50. Why is the cost so high for visiting your doctor? Insurance companies dictate the cost of care and how much they’re willing to compensate doctors for their services. Doctors over-bill insurance knowing they are going to be compensated less. It’s simple economics. There is also the cost of in-person delivery with car rides, waiting rooms, multiple nurses, nurse assistants, nurse practitioners, doctors, front desk agents, office real-estate, and malpractice insurance.
Telemedicine delivers the same service with a fraction of the staff and 50x faster. It’s built to lead the cost savings in healthcare. Telehealth is in many ways a counter-culture approach to healthcare. It’s affordable and effective. It works for the future. It cuts down on pollution, traffic, energy, virus filled waiting rooms, and expensive overhead. And in some instances, it cuts down on the most expensive element of healthcare—health insurance carriers. Telemedicine can be to healthcare what Virgin Galactic is to space travel—affordable..
The amazing thing about the moon landing in 1969 is the United States set an overly ambitious goal and the American people were able to watch it unfold live. In that moment, the entire country felt like we accomplished something together. And in a way, we did. American work ethic proved to be the difference maker. Everyone contributed: from big cities to rural towns. Farmers and stock brokers alike watched brave astronauts and brilliant rocket scientists plant our flag on the moon. People worked hard, taxes were paid, and spaceships landed in places we never dreamed.
But healthcare isn’t quite the same as the 1960’s collective American moon-landing experience. It should be, but it’s not. Not everyone can participate. The accessibility of healthcare resources decreases as population density decreases. If you’re a rural worker, good luck finding affordable, local care. According to a recent USDA report, rural communities spend more out-of-pocket income on health expenditures while having a harder time accessing care in the first place.
“Telehealth is in many ways a counter-culture approach to healthcare. It’s affordable and effective.”
Telehealth is an obvious answer to get everyone participating in American healthcare advancements. Telehealth won’t solve all medical issues, but it can help bring care to places that need it most. And most importantly, it can bring it at a cost that is affordable. The CDC stated that there are 990.8 million physician office visits per year, 50% of which are primary care physicians. Care starts with the primary physician and moves through specialists. And that is an enormous challenge: primary care isn’t even starting in rural communities.
Like NASA brought a space travel experience to every American, telemedicine can do the same for healthcare.
Space Travel Is Downright Cool
In 1969, we were proud to say Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. launched a rocket into the history books—our hometown heroes. But did landing on the moon mean anything to the world? Did we do it because we wanted to be the first? Or was it to capture the essence of the human spirit if only for a few brief moments? Arguments have been made why President Kennedy passionately pushed the space program into a new frontier, but after it was all said and done, it was worth every penny. It spawned countless innovations and created millions of jobs as a result. Robotics, computer hardware and software, nanotechnology, transportation, and other innovations all stem from the Apollo era.
And while Telemedicine isn’t as cool as landing on the moon, the technological ability to deliver amazing healthcare to the palm of your hand is nothing short of spectacular. Telemedicine is bringing back in-home physician checkups like great Grandma and Grandpa had. It’s now possible to sit in bed and catch up on your favorite shows while getting care from a board-certified physician 100 miles away.
You don’t have to get in your car, sit in a sick-filled waiting room, and drive all the way back home to let the healing finally begin. We should appreciate just how cool Telemedicine is and how far we have come. In less than 10 years, Telemedicine will have changed the world of healthcare and you’ve got a front row seat.