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Telemedicine gaining acceptance

Telemedicine gaining acceptance

LAS VEGAS — On-site health care clinics that treat employees' medical issues on the spot along with providing preventive care have proven a valuable investment for some employers, but they aren't financially feasible for small companies.

Instead, on-site telemedicine clinics offer an effective alternative for employers with 200-500 employees, said Stewart Levy, president of Princeton, New Jersey-based health care consultancy Health Promotion Solutions, during a session Wednesday at the Society of Human Resource Management Inc.'s annual conference in Las Vegas.

Telemedicine clinics allow employees to be treated by a doctor via videoconference from a kiosk or cart at the worksite. Telemedicine decreases the need for a worker to go to an urgent care clinic, alleviates transportation barriers to care, and allows better access to medical specialists, he said.

Telemedicine clinics also require little staff to operate, meaning lower costs for the employer, and enable the employer to reach workers in scattered areas from an existing clinic's location, Mr. Levy said.

“It's all about the care, and the ability to provide care more efficiently, and that's what technology is going to allow us to do through telemedicine,” he said.

According to a 2014 Towers Watson & Co. analysis of employers with 1,000 or more employees, 22% of employers surveyed offered telemedicine consultations to employees, and 37% said they expected to offer telemedicine in 2015. Another 34% were considering offering telemedicine in 2016 or 2017, according to the analysis.

Towers Watson also said telemedicine could deliver more than $6 billion a year in health care savings to U.S. companies.

The growth in telemedicine is driven by state and federal support, as well as Medicare's mandated reimbursement for care providers, Mr. Levy said. Currently there are 27 states that mandate private insurers to pay for telemedicine, Mr. Levy said. “Everything is moving in the right direction from a regulatory perspective,” he said.

A telemedicine kiosk, such as one produced by Dublin, Ohio-based HealthSpot Inc., provides all the instruments typically found inside a medical clinic, Mr. Levy said. The kiosk is self-directed, so employees use the instruments themselves with direction from a physician or nurse practitioner speaking by videoconference. The physician also uses software to control the medical devices, which can include tools such as a blood pressure cuff, thermometer, stethoscope and scale.

“The results have been outstanding,” he said of HealthSpot's kiosks. “Satisfaction rates are through the roof.”

The next twist in telemedicine is a concept called “telepresence,” which allows the patient to feel like “the clinician is right in the room,” Mr. Levy said. Using video, images of what the clinician is looking at, such as a patient's throat or eye, are projected onto the screen for the patient to see. That makes the experience “more empowering than having the clinician in the room,” Mr. Levy said.

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