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Dr. Steven R. Gerst: Telemedicine Takes Hold in Health Care, Providing Valuable Alternatives to the Traditional Model of Delivery

Steven R. Gerst is excited about new changes in the healthcare industry and points to recent developments such as with healthcare leader, United Healthcare.

United Healthcare has just announced that it has broadened telehealth coverage options for enrollees in self-funded employer health plans. This represents great progress in the delivery of healthcare to the consumer. Choices for those eligible will include around the clock, online access to a physician’s services via mobile phone, tablet, or computer. United Healthcare also announced that it will be working with three telemedicine companies: Doctor On Demand, Optum’s Now Clinic, and American Well to cover doctor/patient visits via video technology in the same way it would cover in person visits.

Enrollees can access virtual visit care providers through United Healthcare’s Health4Me mobile app, which includes pricing information for each provider listing available within the subscriber’s network, and subscribers can compare costs between all three contracted provider groups.

A shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians has underscored the critical need for an alternative in healthcare delivery to the consumer, especially for those located in rural areas, or for those in an area where the shortage of providers has made it a challenge to find care. This growing need has made accessibility to virtual services a definite necessity, and demand is growing. Last year alone, it has been reported by the American Telemedicine Association that more than 10 million consumers took advantage of using telemedicine services directly.

Dr. Steven R. Gerst: Telemedicine represents a thriving field of opportunity that lies at the forefront of the modernization of healthcare.

The National Business Group on Health predicts that 48% of employers will provide telehealth options to employees this year. Telehealth options not only provide great benefits to employees on the healthcare delivery side, but they also serve as a money saving option as well. As United Healthcare has noted, the cost of a video based virtual visit is less than $50, compared to costs of comparable medical services received at a doctor’s office, which run at about $80. Savings increase even more when comparing virtual visit costs to those incurred at an urgent care center, where the patient fee commonly charged is at around $160, or to costs incurred in an emergency room, where the financial burden is the greatest, often at $650 or more per visit.

“UHC 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,” said Jeff Alter, CEO of UHC’s Commercial Group business. “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.”

Also newsworthy, it has been reported that an unprecedented number of Telemedicine bills are awaiting congressional action. There is a backlog of legislation being introduced in both the House and Senate, and momentum appears to be growing in Congress to expand federal support for telemedicine, according to the American Telemedicine Association.

Steven R. Gerst: Technology is allowing patients to utilize alternative options that are helping them take control of their health.

Steven R. Gerst is Dean Emeritus, the Masters of Science in Applied Health Informatics Program, Board Member and Professor at Bryan University (Los Angeles, Sacramento, Toronto and Phoenix) and is currently at the University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine in the Office of the Chief Innovation Officer and Vice Provost in the “Entrepreneur–in-Residence” program where he is working in the area of medical information systems, telemedicine, medical devices, pharmaceutical product development and commercialization.

Steven R. Gerst is a graduate of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (M.D.), Columbia College (B.A.), Columbia School of Public Health – Health Administration (M.P.H.) and the Goizuetta School of Business at Emory University (M.B.A.). He is a Diplomat in the American College of Healthcare Executives. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Informatics at Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Dr. Gerst will be speaking at the IHC Forum and Expo, taking place in Atlanta, Georgia at the Cobb Galleria Center, June 23rd – 25th, 2015. He will be speaking on healthcare consumerism, and the solutions for health reform.