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Payers look to telehealth to mitigate rising healthcare costs in 2021

RingCentral for healthcare payers


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2020 was, to say the least, an interesting year for healthcare spending. An unprecedented global healthcare crisis changed healthcare spending patterns. Yet, the addition of telehealth services reduced those costs to an extent.

PwC’s report on medical cost trends in 2020 explores the impact of these costs on payers. Healthcare professionals can reduce some of those costs by using a telehealth communications platform.

PwC’s predictions about healthcare costs in 2021

PwC’s medical cost trend report revealed that employers incurred unplanned costs related to the global health crisis in 2020. Those costs will continue into 2021.

At this point, it’s unclear how much costs will rise for payers. PwC researchers reported it’s possible for healthcare costs to rise anywhere from four to 10%, depending on the effects of the global healthcare crisis.

While PwC researchers admit that the costs will be unpredictable, there are some things that became clear even as society was still in the midst of the healthcare crisis. There will be certain costs that will arise, such as:

  • Mental health services—more people are utilizing them as a result of the global situation
  • New specialty drugs—emerging treatments to lengthen patients’ lives are coming onto the market, and healthcare providers are utilizing them to help their patients

At the same time, there are developments that will lead to cost reductions for payers. One significant factor in cost reduction is the increase in telehealth services.

How telehealth services reduce healthcare costs

Telehealth services reduce healthcare costs for two reasons:

  • They cost less than in-person visits
  • There are fewer diagnostic tests prescribed than with in-person visits

How can payers leverage low telehealth costs?

Even though there are some rising costs PwC foresees (greater utilization of mental health services and more expensive specialty drugs on the market), payers can leverage lower telehealth costs to save money.

How will that be possible? With the rise of telehealth services in 2020, it’s significantly easier for payers to offer those services to healthcare plan members.

Elevating the member experience
Learn how the right telehealth communications platform can help boost member retention rates.

In fact, there are some specialties that are highly suited for telehealth services, such as mental healthcare. Mental health professionals can deliver therapy remotely through a telehealth communications platform. That way, patients get the therapy they need in a cost-effective way.

What can healthcare providers do to increase telehealth services availability?

To make themselves more attractive partners for healthcare payers, healthcare providers can take steps to offer effective, secure, and affordable telehealth services.

The first step is to choose the right telehealth communications platform. The best healthcare communications platform is an integrated suite of collaboration tools, including voice, video meetings, secure messaging, and contact center technology. This technology creates more touchpoints between providers and patients.

RingCentral for healthcare payers

In addition, a healthcare communications platform enables providers to deliver telehealth services. Healthcare communications platforms run in the cloud, so providers and their team members can access them from anywhere. That means that providers could see patients remotely.

Healthcare communications platforms allow for continuity of care in a cost-effective and safe manner.

How healthcare communications platforms lower telehealth costs

For payers, the benefits of healthcare communications platforms are clear—they allow providers to deliver care in a cost-effective manner.

The typical cost of a telehealth visit is $50. Conversely, the average weighted cost for care at alternative sites runs payers $176. By covering telehealth services, payers save themselves $126 per visit.

Other benefits of telehealth services

In addition to lower telehealth costs, there are other benefits for employer payers to telehealth services:

  • Lower absenteeism
  • Employees aren’t exposed to diseases in the waiting room
  • Employees want telehealth services

Lower absenteeism

The average wait time to see a doctor is two hours. That includes the time the patient spends commuting to a doctor’s office and waiting for an appointment.

Taking time off work to see a doctor costs employees and employers thousands of dollars every year. Telehealth services reduce those costs because an employee doesn’t even have to leave work to have a medical appointment. And after the appointment ends, the employee could go right back to work, saving time and money for the employer.

Employees aren’t exposed to diseases in the waiting room

Doctor’s waiting rooms can be a hotbed for diseases, some of which can be deadly. An April 2019 study found superbugs (bacteria resistant to antibiotics) in the nostrils and on the hands of 14% of patients at two Michigan hospitals, and bacteria residing on a third of the objects touched by patients (including call buttons to summon nurses).

Thanks to a global healthcare crisis, we’re more vigilant about sanitation. If there are steps we can take to minimize the spread of viruses, we will. Telehealth reduces the spread of viruses by keeping patients out of waiting rooms, so they can’t catch something and pass it along to their colleagues.

Employees want telehealth services

People born between 1981 and 1996, known as Millennials, make up half the American workforce. Millennials have different preferences and views than their parents and grandparents. One of their strongly held preferences is for telehealth. Almost three-quarters of Millennials would rather have a virtual appointment than go to a provider’s office.

The generation following Millennials, Gen Z, has been even more outspoken in its preferences for telehealth. According to a September 2020 survey, 41% of Gen Z members said they would rather have digital or virtual experiences with their physicians.

Employers can’t ignore these statistics. Gen Z is slowly trickling into the American workforce, and they’ll make up a sizeable demographic when the younger members of their cohort are ready to work. To cater to this demographic, employers should fund telehealth services.

See lower telehealth costs with RingCentral’s healthcare communications platform

RingCentral’s healthcare communications platform allows healthcare providers to deliver telehealth services in a cost-effective, secure manner. Payers can benefit from lower telehealth costs, while healthcare plan members receive excellent care for their conditions. Better healthcare outcomes at a lower cost. Cloud communication systems are transforming healthcare. Find out how.

Originally published Mar 08, 2021, updated Mar 17, 2021

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