Health care providers increasingly are adopting telehealth technology as more insurers and employers begin to pay for such services, the Wall Street Journal reports.
For example, WellPoint, the nation's second-largest health insurer, plans to offer in its employer and individual plans remote consultations with physicians using laptop webcams or video-enabled smartphones and tablets. The company will include its new LiveHealth Online program in employer plans in California and Ohio next year and aims to expand the service to commercial plans by late 2014.
Other insurers -- including Aetna and UnitedHealth Group -- offer virtual physician visits as an option for certain employers, while a growing number of large businesses -- such as Home Depot, Booz & Co. and Westinghouse Electric -- are offering more remote health care consultations in their benefits.
According to a survey by consulting firm Mercer, 15% of major employers offer some form of telemedicine, while an additional 39% are considering the option.
Insurers and businesses say telehealth technology could help alleviate the projected shortage of primary care physicians. In addition, remote physician consultations typically cost about $40 to $45, significantly less than visits to an emergency department or urgent care center, as well as most in-person doctor visits (Wilde Mathews, Wall Street Journal, 12/20).