Las Vegas Review-Journal - - HEALTH -

was so easy,” she said.

Doc­tors have used telemedicine for years to mon­i­tor pa­tients or reach those in re­mote lo­ca­tions. Now more em­ploy­ers are en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple cov­ered un­der their health plans to seek care vir­tu­ally for sev­eral rea­sons.

Telemedicine can re­duce time spent away from the job, and it also can cost half the price of a doc­tor’s visit, which might top $100 for some­one with a high-de­ductible plan. How­ever, those sav­ings can be negated if telemedicine’s con­ve­nience causes peo­ple to overuse it.

Wal­mart said it cut the cost for vir­tual vis­its to give an­other care op­tion to the more than one mil­lion peo­ple cov­ered by its health ben­e­fits.

Em­ploy­ers aren’t the only ones push­ing the tech­nol­ogy.

The drug­store chains CVS Health and Wal­greens are pro­mot­ing apps that let cus­tomers con­nect to doc­tors. Some in­sur­ers like Os­car Health are of­fer­ing it for free to cus­tomers as a first line of treat­ment.

Ease of use is one of the rea­sons re­searchers and telemedicine providers think the prac­tice will be­come more wide­spread in sev­eral ar­eas of care. Those in­clude der­ma­tol­ogy and fol­low-up doc­tor vis­its af­ter a surgery or med­i­cal pro­ce­dure.

A vir­tual ther­a­pist

Men­tal health vis­its are an­other area ripe for vir­tual care be­cause

pa­tients can feel more com­fort­able talk­ing to a ther­a­pist in their own home, said Boyce of In­sight Telepsy­chi­a­try, which de­liv­ers men­tal health care in about 30 states.

Boyce said peo­ple also like the anonymity of a vir­tual visit.

Men­tal health vis­its were the most com­mon use of telemedicine by pa­tients un­til pri­mary care over­took that spe­cialty a few years ago, Har­vard’s Dr. Ateev Mehro­tra and other re­searchers found in a re­cent study of claims data from a large in­surer.

Re­search firm IHS Markit es­ti­mates that telemedicine vis­its in the U.S. will soar from 23 mil­lion in 2017 to 105 mil­lion by 2022.

But even then, they will prob­a­bly amount to only about one out of ev­ery 10 doc­tor vis­its, said se­nior an­a­lyst Roeen Roashan.

Mdlive CEO Rich Berner said telemedicine is like the dig­i­tal video recorder Tivo, which took a while to catch on with view­ers.

“Peo­ple were so used to do­ing things the other way that it just took a lit­tle while to kind of re­ally go main­stream,” he said. “But when it did, it went main­stream big-time.”

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