Telemedicine also known as Telehealth or Virtual Clinic as with many tech fields, can be spoken of in many different terms when it comes to cost. In one sense, telemedical equipment of the most functional variety -- take-home wireless routers that connect to medical peripherals designed to beam your vital statistics directly to your doctor -- are still somewhere between 'too expensive' and 'insanely expensive,' at least from the perspective of a home buyer.
But in another sense, telemedical costs are absurdly low compared to traditional medical expenses. According to a survey by SoftwareAdvice.com, for example, the average telemedical teleconference for a minor medical issue costs an average of $95 -- compared to an ER visit for the same small problem, which can run up to multiple thousands of dollars just for having a patient wait in bed for a few hours while a doctor gets around to them.
Equipment Is the Difference
The significant cost difference is in equipment. On the one hand, most Americans already have the two most essential elements of telemedical communication: a phone and an email account. Many have the 'advanced toolset' -- a webcam, a microphone, an Internet connection, and possibly a smartphone or tablet. Setting up a system to take advantage of these preexisting tools can be quite inexpensive without sacrificing much utility -- just the cost of some software that can be easily installed by a patient on their home computer to allow for secure video conferencing.
Skype -- it's entirely another to loan them a 'medical watch' that will automatically update you if they suffer a significant fever, elevated heart rate, or other significant deviation from the standard vital signs. That can cost several hundred dollars per patient per month
The Security Question
HIPAA. Privacy laws are a huge challenge to telemedicine; as necessary as they are (and they are required!), there are very few consumer-level wireless devices that offer a level of encryption that satisfies HIPAA regulations.
But Who Will Pay for It?
That is the big question -- despite a Federal initiative to support telehealth services for all Americans, there are still only 22 states that require insurance carriers to reimburse physicians equally for telemedical services and traditional services. Most others are unregulated, meaning it's entirely possible for a doctor to provide telemedicine services to a patient and bill them directly (or absorb the cost themselves).
Nevertheless, every passing month seems to bring several telemedicine bills in front of various state legislatures. Experts agree that remote health is a certain field -- it's just a question of how long it will take for the most stubborn states to catch on.
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