• 5-Minute Article
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  • Sep 01, 2020

How Telemedicine Can Save You Time and Money in Retirement

Ask these six questions to guide your decisions about adding telemedicine to your retirement healthcare plan.

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Content created by Kiplinger, modified with permission for use by Brighthouse Financial.

Questions this article can help you answer:
  • What are the benefits of telemedicine services?
  • Will Medicare pay for telemedicine?
  • How can telemedicine reduce my healthcare expenses?

Telemedicine’s ability to connect patients with doctors isn’t new, but current events, including recent legislation, have elevated its accessibility, benefits, and potential savings. And, thanks to technologies that allow personalized and convenient medical advice in real time, retirees are discovering many practical advantages that these virtual connections offer.

As you and your financial professional evaluate strategies to help cover healthcare costs in retirement, consider these questions to determine whether telemedicine can add value to your retirement plan.


1. What Is Telemedicine and How Can I Use It?

Telemedicine is a broad term that encompasses multiple ways that health professionals can evaluate, diagnose, treat, and monitor patients remotely with their permission, including via live video conferencing and smartphone applications.

Patients today use virtual care with their doctors for a variety of reasons, such as asking general health questions, learning about test results, and adjusting their medication. Additionally, nearly all health insurance providers offer some type of connected health services.

Action step: Find an overview of telehealth basics and options. Ask your health insurer if they partner with a telemedicine provider and offer the services as a plan benefit. Ask your primary care doctors and specialists if they have practice-based telemedicine systems in place.


2. What’s New About Telemedicine and Medicare?

Use of telemedicine services soared during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as people stayed home and physicians reduced nonessential office visits. Trends indicate that demand for telemedicine could grow by 64.3% in the U.S. in 2020.1

What’s more, Medicare expanded telemedicine access in March 2020 as part of the federal government’s response to current events.2 The changes lift eligibility limits on where Medicare patients can receive telemedicine services (including those located outside of rural areas and in their homes) and enable more healthcare providers to offer the technology to patients. Medicare Advantage Plans also offer additional telemedicine benefits.3 As Medicare broadens telemedicine benefits, current trends are expected to shape future virtual health strategies.4

Action step: Review a factsheet about telehealth coverage changes and visit Medicare’s telehealth site for more details.

Alt tag for the image above: Interest in Telehealth Visits


3. Does Telemedicine Save Money?

Consumers who opted for telemedicine over a traditional office visit saved an average of $100 per visit, based on time, mileage, and claims costs.5

To break down those savings even further, Brian Marcotte, president of Business Group on Health, says having a doctor treat an upper respiratory infection could cost as little as $40 via a video call compared to a doctor’s office visit that would run about $100.

On average, a telemedicine visit costs about $79, compared with about $146 for an in-office visit.6 However, the research also found that telemedicine’s increased convenience can increase utilization in some cases, so overall healthcare costs may rise or stay the same.

And for patients living in rural areas, where the nearest health clinic can be a three-hour drive away, telemedicine offers added savings of travel costs.

Action step: Find out what telemedicine options your healthcare providers and health insurer can offer you. Pricing and scope of virtual services may vary between doctors, health systems, insurers, and states.


4. Can Telemedicine Save Me Time?

Because of technology, telemedicine visits can be faster and more convenient than in-office visits for most patients – no matter where they may be.

Danielle W., a digital marketer in Los Angeles, says she was introduced to telemedicine during a trip to Arizona. Her throat was sore, but she was too busy to call her regular doctor in California. Instead, she used a telemedicine app.

“I love my doctor (in California), but there are so many steps to get seen,” she explains. Instead, the telemedicine service answered her call quickly, and within minutes her prescription medicine was waiting for her at a nearby pharmacy.

“It was very convenient. The prescription arrived at the pharmacy much faster than it ever did at home,” she shares. Telemedicine can also reduce wait and travel times – and provide a solution when seeking in-person care isn’t practical.

Action step: Compare the typical time savings associated with telemedicine to your in-person physician appointment experiences. On average, consumers say their entire telemedicine experience takes an average of 44 minutes: 17 minutes to complete the enrollment process, 9 minutes to wait for a physician or nurse practitioner, and 18 minutes for the actual consultation.7


5. Can Virtual Care Help Me Stay Healthier?

In addition to providing convenient and cost-effective care, telemedicine is increasing healthcare access and improving treatment.

For example, people with mobility issues or chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes, or arthritis are able to more easily keep follow-up appointments at home without visiting a doctor’s or specialist’s office.

And based on one analysis, some patients can skip the follow-up appointment completely after an initial telemedicine visit.5 The study found that most telemedicine visits simply replaced another care setting at a hospital or doctor’s office, and the patient’s health issue was resolved with no supplemental visit needed within seven days for the same ailment in 95% of cases.

Virtual appointments can also keep healthier patients with minor issues at home and away from emergency rooms and urgent care settings – decreasing potential exposure to more serious illnesses.

A recent research review of more than 950 studies on telemedicine outcomes shows evidence that virtual care may be most beneficial for:8

  • Remote home monitoring for patients with chronic conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure
  • Communicating and counseling patients with chronic conditions
  • Providing psychotherapy as part of behavioral health

Action step: Review your health history and wellness strategies with your physicians. Together, you can assess the types of telemedicine services that can best monitor, maintain, and improve health.


6. How Can I Prepare for a Virtual Visit?

To make the most of a virtual visit with your provider, follow these tips:

  • Create (or update) a list of current medications and supplements to refer to during the appointment, if needed
  • Have your insurance card on hand
  • Write a list of questions for your doctor, as well as what your symptoms are and when they started
  • Make sure your devices are fully charged and your internet connection is strong
  • Use Wi-Fi if your cellular data plan is limited
  • Have the conversation in a well-lit private area without distractions

Action step: Use this step-by-step guide to make sure you have what’s needed for a virtual visit. View this video to learn what to expect during a telemedicine visit.

Kiplinger has an in-house content studio, which reports on investing, retirement planning, and wise money management for its partner organizations, providing trustworthy advice and guidance for their readers.