Even as healthcare costs continue to surge, online businesses have led a wave of innovation that has made many aspects of healthcare more accessible and affordable. Instead of being limited to just a few physical locations, healthcare and health services can now be made available to anyone, at scale. This article discusses three key advances.
1. Online pharmacies are changing the prescription game
It’s no longer necessary for patients to physically go to a pharmacy to have prescriptions filled. Instead, they can have their physician send prescriptions directly to an online pharmacy. Just as individual insurance and HRAs are giving many more people access to quality health insurance, online pharmacies are helping people reduce prescription costs.
While traditional group health providers often have their own online systems, these are typically run through Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs)—a middleman—which results in higher prescription rates. Innovative companies like Honeybee Health are skipping the PBMs and offering generic prescriptions directly to customers to give people the medicine they need at wholesale prices. You don’t need health insurance to use services like Honeybee—in fact, their prices on common generic prescription medications are much lower without insurance.
2. Online health insurance exchanges create a real alternative
As the costs for traditional group health insurance continues to increase, the costs for individual health insurance in many states are actually falling dramatically. Innovators like KindHealth are making it easy for people to shop for and get advice on individual health plans, and many employers are learning that instead of paying traditional group health insurance premiums, they can reimburse employees for individual health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, tax-free, with an individual coverage HRA (ICHRA).
Companies like PeopleKeep even offer online tools that make it easy for organizations to compare individual health insurance offerings on the ACA marketplace or their state exchange to a current group health plan or quote. As many have discovered during the Covid-19 pandemic, a key advantage of individual health insurance is that it is not tied to their employer. Their coverage stays with them even if they lose their job or have their hours reduced, which otherwise might cause them to lose their group health insurance.
3. Online care keeps physicians and patients connected
Telehealth is seeing dramatic adoption rates. According to a recent report by McKinsey & Company, consumer adoption has surged from 11 percent of US consumers in 2019 to 46 percent of consumers in 2020. McKinsey estimates that up to $250 billion of current US healthcare spend could potentially be virtualized. Clinics and hospitals are also deploying applications that make it easy for patients to make appointments, view records and test results, and communicate with medical staff without any need for physical interaction. Mental health is also seeing similar online advances, with companies like Be.WELL. offering online therapy.
Online devices are improving the quality of care, giving physicians much more data and real-time visibility current status. For example, many CPAP machines report oxygen levels remotely and smart glucose monitors are being developed, which will allow physicians to more effectively monitor and treat patients with diabetes.
All of these advances mean patients spend less time traveling and sitting in waiting rooms where they are exposed to other illnesses, physicians can serve more patients with better data, and hospitals and clinics can scale farther at a lower cost.
While we are unlikely to see dramatic reductions in the overall costs of healthcare any time soon, there are definitely bright spots as many areas of medicine go online. Pharmacies like Honeybee Health, individual insurance exchanges, health benefit administrators like PeopleKeep, medical and mental health clinics, and even devices are all moving online, increasing healthcare quality and access, while reducing costs.