Chances are you’ve heard about and been personally affected by ballooning healthcare costs. It’s no secret that business owners are facing a crisis paying for healthcare costs. In 2019, the average cost of employer-sponsored health insurance was $7,188 for single coverage and $20,576 for family coverage, according to study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Employees covered $1,242 or $6,015 of the plan for single and family plans, respectively. In total, employers paid over $6 billion a year for employee health plans. The average healthcare cost per person in 2019 was $11,599, amounting to a $3.6 trillion healthcare market. Premiums will likely increase by 4 to 40 percent in 2021.
These astronomical costs can hit small business owners and entrepreneurs particularly hard. To complicate the situation, any effort that a business makes to save on healthcare typically comes at the cost of harming employees. Increasing employee burdens and destroying employee satisfaction is a quick way to kill a business.
Adding to the problem of high healthcare costs is the issue of missed work. In America, employees missed 893 million days due to illness and lost an estimated 527 million days because of illness impacts on productivity, according to a 2018 study. There is a snowball effect of mounting healthcare problems if they are not dealt with appropriately. Take, for example, mental health. If an employee does not receive proper treatment due to embarrassment, the price of services or the cost of missed work, the problems get worse. Likewise, if an employee with an illness tries to come into work, they can very rapidly infect numerous other workers. Altogether, sick employees cost employers $530 billion a year.
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How technology can help
There are numerous problems with the healthcare market, but a huge problem is supply and demand. The demand for healthcare is much higher than supply. The existing deficit of doctors and nurses will likely get worse in the future. In some cities and at some times, we also have a shortage of hospital beds and medical devices. Medical devices and prescriptions are costly to develop and produce. Our healthcare demand is dramatically increasing as the population ages and, of course, as we deal with global health crises. Technology is critical to help overcome the supply and demand problem.
Technology can and will have a significant and positive effect on our lives in numerous ways. It can significantly reduce healthcare costs, improve patient access and improve health care and associated diagnoses. Everything from telehealth, to online medical records, to the exciting new uses of artificial intelligence (AI) can save money and increase health and well-being.
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About 90 percent of U.S. healthcare providers had full functioning or developing telehealth programs before 2020. Then, in the first half of 2020, patient adoption of telehealth services grew by 33 percent over the previous year. Telehealth funding could reach $185.6 billion by 2026. Employers could save up to $6 billion per year on healthcare costs by providing telemedicine technologies to their employees. When employers implemented a telemedicine program, they saved 11 percent on the benefits budget. In one study of cardiovascular patients, telehealth options reduce the patient’s monthly healthcare costs by $576. A telehealth program in Houston reduced unnecessary emergency visits by 6.7 percent, resulting in a $2,468 savings for the healthcare system for each unnecessary visit.
Telehealth saves patients over 100 minutes of their time compared to an in-person visit, and they can conduct each appointment anywhere in the world there’s a telephone or Internet connection.This time can be directly applied back into a productive workday or to increase an employee’s quality of life. For a number of technology and health and wellness companies, telehealth represents a vast, mostly untapped market. For all employees, telehealth enables increases in the company’s bottom line and improvements employee health and well-being.
It is incredible just how much virtual care can accomplish. It currently extends well beyond general medical and mental healthcare services. For example, one provider, Teledochealth, provides direct-to-consumer services, platforms that support the physician practice and platforms and models that help hospitals and health systems with everything from teleICU, telestroke and teleneonatal care. Teledochealth was able to help reestablish an entire practice, Paradise Medical Group, after the California wildfires destroyed all of its facilities.
Patients can send doctors a message online. The nurse can triage the questions and have the doctor answer the questions as needed when it is convenient for the doctor. The patient does not have to wait on hold or make an unnecessary appointment, which costs, on average, $150 per visit with insurance. Telehealth increases the number of patients healthcare providers can see while also improving patient access to valuable health information, which decreases costs by 11 percent. Teledoc has found that in some cases, doctors can increase the number of patient communications by as much as 800 percent. Imagine how much better healthcare could be if we were able to quickly and effectively get our healthcare questions answered by a healthcare provider instead of Dr. Google. Even better, telehealth visits have a 93 percent satisfaction rate compared to an 88 percent satisfaction rate for traditional, in-person doctor visits.
Saving time is an apparent reason for increased satisfaction. When patients were asked what would encourage them to book a telemedicine appointment, convenience factors, including easy-to-use technology (69 percent), communication (57 percent), online scheduling capabilities (47 percent) and immediate appointment availability (47 percent), were the main reasons. Instead of driving to an office and sitting in a waiting room (with other sick patients), all a patient needs to do is make a phone call or log into a website. The visits can be made at work or in the privacy of a patient’s home. Doctors can send prescriptions to the pharmacy and have the medications delivered directly to the patient’s home. These actions save time and money for the employer and the employee. When anything is made less complicated, people are more likely to do it. The simple process of making healthcare more accessible increases patients’ engagement with their health and increases the accuracy of diagnoses.
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Other healthcare technology
If a healthcare provider has the right technology, they store patient information in the (safe) cloud. The access to data improves diagnoses, because all information is available for all providers that a patient sees. The data can then enable AI and other forms of predictive analytics to go to work helping the patient. Like so many parts of our lives now, technology advances that once seemed far-fetched now very much exist. With the correct information, AI can learn about a patient’s health by looking for trends and patterns. This is no different than Google learning your favorite stores and brands and then sending targeted coupons or ads. Mindstrong can detect depression by watching how a person uses their phone. Livongo uses AI and questionnaires to its users to manage diabetes, hypertension, mental health and weight control. Google and Apple have been using GPS during the past several months to see where people have been and tracking if people have entered high-risk areas or been in contact with infected people.
It seems like almost an obvious statement to say that technology can so dramatically improve our lives and a company’s bottom line. Healthcare has been one area slow to adapt to changes. Regulations and privacy concerns are two primary factors that have caused the delays. The global health crisis has pushed us to embrace health technologies in new ways, and now we’ve seen the positive benefits. We have decreases in sick leave and increases in health and well-being. And, of course, the big one, we see significant reductions in healthcare costs. Doctors are finding greater convenience, the ability to work anytime and anywhere, less canceled or skipped appointments and open access to more patients.
Related: 5 Technological Innovations Changing Medical Practice
What business owners can do
Business owners need to be advocates for themselves. They can negotiate for their health plans. Think of employee health plan purchases like any large business purchase and negotiate the best rates and the best specifications. Payors were once resistant to paying for health care technologies, and these negotiations were complicated.
However, the global health crisis has brought unprecedented demand for and use of virtual care, including support at the government level. The relief packages enacted in early 2020 allowed Medicare to cover telehealth and also waived some rules about crossing state lines with telehealth. The changes enable patients in high demand and/or low-supply areas to find care. Although the political environment can change rapidly, it currently looks like much of the relief packages are here to stay. The global health crisis has made some insurance companies more willing to negotiate.
Also, now is the time to make sure technologies are part of a benefits package. Entrepreneurs can insist that healthcare plans cover telehealth visits. They can also request that specific technology healthcare tools be available to employees. Education programs can help employees understand all the tools that exist to help manage health. These tools can lead to an empowered and educated patient, which leads to a more productive and effective employee — all of which saves billions of dollars.
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