The medical scanner of Star Trek fame is not here yet, but telemedicine is a definite reality, and insurance companies are jumping into the field to cover remote medical services as they emerge. As technology evolves, more medical services are being offered by telephone, internet or video conferencing.

Nearly 20% of employer-sponsored health-care plans now offer coverage for telephone and video conferencing services, according to LIMRA, a research and educational resource for the insurance and retirement industries. Another 6% of employers are thinking of adding the coverage to their health-care policies for employees within the next 18 months.

With the introduction of more virtual health-care services and apps that focus on providing patient care services online, more individuals are going to demand health insurance plans that offer telemedicine coverage, says the blog site Joany, which focused a recent post on health-care trends for 2018.

This modern day equivalent of the house call cannot replace regular physician checkups or urgent care, but the services do provide a convenient complement to in-office visits. Virtual doctor’s visits are expected to increase by 50% by 2020, the blog post predicts. Currently, 30% of people use computers or mobile devices to check for medical or diagnostic information, according to the American Hospital Association.

Paying for in-home care is cheaper for the insurance company and in-home care is easier on the patient. “Frequent medical monitoring appointments can be quite challenging, particularly for those older adults who may be frail and unable to travel long distances,” says Sabrina Smith, interim CEO of the American Telemedicine Association.

The association advocates for insurance coverage for remote patient monitoring and other technology-enabled medical services that can be delivered in the home. The growing number of older citizens and their longer life spans will increase pressure on medical practitioners to develop new in-home care techniques and, in turn, will increase the pressure on insurance companies to cover the services, ATA says.

Thirty-four states have laws that require insurance companies to cover “tele-health” services, according to Gary Capistrant, chief policy officer of ATA. “Medicare has been the laggard. Some states have better networks than others to help patients get connected with providers.

“Every health-care specialty can provide some services by telephone or video conferencing,” he adds. “The typical example is a child with an earache at 3 o’clock in the morning. A parent does not want to wait until the next morning for advice. Instead, the process can be started in the middle of the night.”

Even though it may be behind some private insurance in providing coverage, on January 1 Medicare will start providing coverage for remote patient monitoring for seniors and the disabled who have chronic medical conditions. Patients will have a choice to receive in-home monitoring as well as less-frequent, traditional checkups in clinics, doctors’ offices and hospitals.

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