Penn Medicine's telehealth program for employees cut care costs 23%

Philadelphia-based Penn Medicine lowered care costs for employees by establishing a 24/7, copayment-free telemedicine program, according to a study published June 9 in the American Journal of Managed Care.  

Researchers analyzed 5,413 visits employees made to Penn's OnDemand telemedicine service and 5,413 visits they made to in-person providers from July 2017 to the end of 2019 — a time period chosen to avoid confusion with the beginning of the pandemic. All patients studied used the company-sponsored insurance plan. 

Telemedicine costs averaged $380 per visit, compared to $493 for in-person visits. Virtual visits were 23 percent cheaper than in-person appointments for the same conditions, researchers found. 

Researchers also saw demand for telemedicine services increase 10 percent over the course of the study. 

"The conditions most often handled by OnDemand are low acuity — non-urgent or semi-urgent issues like respiratory infections, sinus infections, and allergies — but incredibly common, so any kind of cost reduction can make a huge difference for controlling employee benefit costs," Krisda Chaiyachati, MD, the study's lead researcher, an adjunct assistant professor at Penn Medicine and previous medical director of the OnDemand program, said in a news release. 

"This research shows the clear financial benefits when hospitals and health systems offer telemedicine services directly to their own employees," Dr. Chaiyachati said. 

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