At next week’s Connected Health Conference, doctors from Harvard and UPMC will tackle the question of whether telemedicine’s costs outweigh its benefits. Telemedicine, whether offered by insurers, hospitals or direct-to-consumer, continues to grow with more and more organizations offering virtual visits to patients. Its a technology with broad support, one of the few things that seem to be able to unite both sides of the political aisle, for instance.But that doesnt mean everyone is in agreement about the particulars of the technology: how and when it should be used, how it should be reimbursed and what are realistic expectations for cost savings.At the Connected Healthcare Conference next week in Boston, Dr. Andrew Watson, the current president of the American Telemedicine Association and a surgeon and vice president at UPMC, will go head to head with Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, an associate professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School and a hospitalist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in a debate on telemedicine. The question? Whether the technologys costs outweigh its benefits.Does overutilization cancel telemedicine savings?Telemedicine savings are very interesting, Watson told MobiHealthNews. The main place people save is on the side of cost avoidance. So if you go to a face-to-face live video for urgent care, you dont have the incumbent expense of having to bear a provider and a facility fee you can be more efficient seeing your patients, and our own analysis has shown you save about $120 per patient per encounter.Mehrotra, who has done policy research on telehealth, thinks that in many cases the technology doesnt produce savings, for a couple of reasons.Ive really tried to challenge this idea that telemedicine is going to save money, he said. In some prior work, we have focused on direct-to-consumer telemedicine. We argue that telemedicine is increasing healthcare spending, not decreasing it.

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