Should telemedicine consultations be given away for free? After all, at $40 a visit, remotely diagnosing and treating patients using technology could drastically lower healthcare costs by replacing a $1,200 emergency room visit for routine care. The cost difference is a compelling argument for free telemedicine.
A 2014 analysis by Willis Towers Watson indicates that telemedicine could save U.S. employers $6 billion per year.
Would free telemedicine visits for health plan members flood the healthcare system with unnecessary consultations that would actually drive costs up? Would the convenience of a telemedicine visit when compared to driving to a physical location result in overuse by patients? Or would it fulfill its promise of saving money by drastically reducing the number of unnecessary visits to emergency rooms at $1,200, urgent care centers at $190, doctor’s offices at $125, and walk-in clinics at pharmacies at $85?