It’s not sur­pris­ing that 2017 stands to be the year many will have an expe­ri­ence to share using a Telemed­i­cine or a Vir­tu­al Doc­tor ser­vice. With cur­rent mar­ket trends, gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions, and chang­ing eco­nom­ic demands, it’s fast becom­ing a more pop­u­lar alter­na­tive to tra­di­tion­al health­care vis­its.  And, as health­care costs con­tin­ue to rise and there are more strate­gic pric­ing options and dig­i­tal mod­els avail­able to users, the appeal for con­sumers, self-insured employ­ers, health sys­tems and health plans to jump on board is significant.

In a recent study con­duct­ed by the Aloft Group on the state of Telemed­i­cine, 47.7% of respon­dents weren’t sure about what Telemed­i­cine meant, but it’s pos­si­ble they may have expe­ri­enced it, as 52.4% have had inter­ac­tion with a physi­cian or clin­i­cian via email or text. Fur­ther, 78.5% of respon­dents indi­cat­ed they would be com­fort­able talk­ing with a physi­cian using an online method.

Dr. Tony Yuan, an expe­ri­enced ER doc­tor in San Diego, who also con­sults for Doc­tor on Demand, pro­vides insight into this increas­ing trend dur­ing a recent Q and A ses­sion. Cur­rent­ly, over half of the patients he sees in his ER could uti­lize a dig­i­tal health­care mod­el. In fact, 90% of patients who head to the ER for minor ill­ness­es can be treat­ed through this ser­vice. So, the next sinus, ear infec­tion, or oth­er minor health issue just may pro­vide you and your fam­i­ly the chance to try what will become the new stan­dard in minor healthcare.

Here are few ben­e­fits TeleMed­i­cine has to offer:

It’s Fast and Simple

There’s no ques­tion apps are avail­able for every­thing to make our lives easier—and TeleMed is no excep­tion. With­in min­utes, stan­dard first time users can set up an account, com­plete a few med­ical pro­file ques­tions, then cre­ate and save a ses­sion. Hav­ing the abil­i­ty to log on with a board-cer­ti­fied physi­cian or clin­i­cian 24/7/365, using any PC, smart device, and even phone in some cas­es, saves time and mon­ey. Many ser­vices, like Tele­doc and MDLive, will con­nect you with a licensed doc­tor or clin­i­cian online in just a few min­utes – no sched­ul­ing or wait required. Once on, you can dis­cuss your health­care needs con­fi­den­tial­ly. After the vis­it, the doc­tor will update his/her records, noti­fy your pri­ma­ry care physi­cian of the call, and send an elec­tron­ic pre­scrip­tion to the phar­ma­cy of your choice, if necessary—all in the time it takes for a lunch break.

It’s Flex­i­ble

The abil­i­ty to con­nect with a pro­fes­sion­al whether you are at home, work, or trav­el­ing makes get­ting the care you need invalu­able. How often have you expe­ri­enced the symptoms—or the full blown-effect—of get­ting sick while trav­el­ing? Many, no doubt, have had to adjust flight/travel plans to get the help need­ed from their PCP, in order to avoid get­ting worse.  By using an app or online ser­vice from your smart phone or lap­top, you’re able to get the antibi­otics you need quick­er with­out cut­ting trips short or miss­ing work to do so.

In addi­tion, patients in small­er com­mu­ni­ties with­out the resources avail­able of clas­si­cal­ly- trained, emer­gency-med physi­cians, see the ben­e­fit and flex­i­bil­i­ty of tap­ping into these online doc­tor ser­vices. Not only is it a plus for the patient to access more advanced care if need­ed, doc­tors in these rur­al areas val­ue this as well. These dig­i­tal health­care mod­els pro­vide imme­di­ate, life-sav­ing tools for both doc­tors and their patients who may not have access to high­er, acute facilities.

It’s Afford­able

Many TeleMed­i­cine ser­vices now accept insur­ance, mak­ing a patient’s vis­it free, or at min­i­mum the same as most deductible or co-insur­ance amounts for office vis­its; around $40. For those on a high-deductible plan, pay­ing $40 for an online doc­tor ser­vice is a much cheap­er alter­na­tive than pay­ing $150 or more for an Urgent Care vis­it, or over $1200 for a trip to the ER. For employ­ers, group options are low cost and can be a clear asset when cre­at­ing solu­tions EEs will value.

It’s Ben­e­fi­cial to Employers

Today, 3 of 5 cor­po­ra­tions, or 59% of employ­ers pro­vide dig­i­tal health­care ben­e­fits to their employ­ees. As an employ­er, the ben­e­fits are straight­for­ward. First, employ­ees can par­tic­i­pate in pro­fes­sion­al con­sul­ta­tions for their fam­i­ly mem­bers or them­selves with­out tak­ing away from pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. Sec­ond, when employ­ers incor­po­rate these ser­vices into their ben­e­fit plans, non-emer­gency care is redi­rect­ed from expen­sive ER vis­its, ulti­mate­ly sav­ing thou­sands of dol­lars or more to the bot­tom line. Addi­tion­al­ly, Tele­Health ser­vices offer fre­quent mon­i­tor­ing from clin­i­cians for those employ­ees who may need reg­u­lar sup­port due to more chron­ic issues, reduc­ing trips to the hos­pi­tal. Reduc­ing these costs have a direct ROI for the employ­er and relieves the stress on the employee’s pock­et­book. Third, many com­pa­nies are now adding this dig­i­tal ben­e­fit to their pack­ages as a way to recruit new talent.

There’s no doubt 2017 will see a greater oppor­tu­ni­ty for all to expe­ri­ence the increas­ing trend of Telemed. Cre­at­ing a clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion strat­e­gy to make sure employ­ees know how to find, access and uti­lize this ser­vice to the high­est poten­tial is key.