Why You’ll Be Seeing More of the Doctor Online

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The number of virtual video consultations between primary health care providers and their patients is projected to more than double over the next five years, Forbes reports.

That would mean cumulative annual growth of nearly 25 percent per year over the next five years, Forbes says, citing analytics firm IHS’ sixth annual report on telehealth and remote patient monitoring.

The number of video consultations between primary care providers and patients is projected to increase from 2 million this year to 5.4 million by 2020.

Expanding health insurance coverage is helping fuel the growing use of new services such as video consultations, the report states:

IHS’ sixth edition study on the world market for telehealth and remote patient monitoring is conducted at a time where new services are introduced to the market at a rapid pace. Increasing access to healthcare is the common denominator among these services.

IHS medical technology analyst Roeen Roashan, who co-authored the report, tells Forbes:

“We’ve seen growth in reimbursement. There’s no doubt [health insurance] payers are focused on virtual consultations. They are really pushing it.”

This spring, the nation’s largest health insurer, UnitedHealthcare, announced that it was expanding its coverage options for virtual doctor visits.

The company gave people who are in self-funded employer health plans “secure, online access to a physician via mobile phone, tablet or computer 24 hours a day,” a press release stated. This type of coverage will be expanded to people in employer-sponsored and individual plans next year.

Jeff Alter, CEO of UnitedHealthcare’s commercial group business, said in a statement:

“UnitedHealthcare is developing innovative telemedicine solutions that enable consumers, especially people who live in rural areas of the country, to access quality, cost-effective health care, whether at home or on the go. Consumers can save time and money choosing among quality physician groups from the convenience of their smartphone, tablet or home computer at any time of the day.”

Forbes reports that other major health insurance companies — including Aetna, Anthem and Cigna — also are expanding virtual consultation coverage and offering more options to employer clients.

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