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Viggy Hampton - September 1, 2020

Telehealth: A Timely (and Discreet) Solution To The American Health Insurance Gap

Every American will need medical care at some point in their lives. For many, accessing needed care is simple—but for the nearly 28 million non-elderly Americans without health insurance, even a simple doctor’s visit can be an insurmountable cost.

When cost is a barrier to access, 20% of uninsured adults forgo necessary clinical care. Even for those who can easily access care, the “stigma” or fear of awkward conversations with unfamiliar doctors prevents individuals from seeking treatment for common issues ranging from routine reproductive care, inflammation and STI screening. As a result, relatively harmless infections can do long-term damage and lead to scarring or infertility in women and men without them even knowing.

The advent of telehealth has gone a long way toward increasing healthcare access, especially in rural areas. Unfortunately, many patients still lack sufficient health coverage to pay, or can’t get medical treatment at all without insurance. In addition, for sensitive conditions like sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the problem of stigma prevents millions from speaking up. As a result, ignoring symptoms is a way of life for many Americans. Instead of treating infections early, millions of Americans suffer in silence, resulting in expensive emergency room visits and advanced disease states. The CDC notes a strong correlation in increased risk of STDs and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), when benign infections, such as bacterial vaginosis (BV), are left untreated.

In the near term, nothing can replace annual in-person medical exams for running biometrics and spotting the early warning signs of disease. However, the flexibility of telehealth provides a bridge to medication and treatment for individuals between annual exams—especially for those too embarrassed to discuss their sexual health in person—and provides a life raft for the many Americans with no viable health coverage to speak of.

Traditional Healthcare Can Be Inconvenient, Inaccessible and Expensive

If you needed treatment today for something like a urinary tract infection (UTI), or an unwelcome genital outbreak, what would you do? Your day would probably go something like this. Take off work to go into a doctor’s office, or walk-in urgent care clinic. Wait until the provider can see you, and then explain your symptoms for the “umpteenth” time. You get yet another test that you have to pay for even though you already know what your diagnosis is. Then, when you get your prescription, you have to run to the pharmacy as fast as possible before you can finally begin treatment.

You’re Not Alone

If you are one of the millions of Americans who must choose between a doctor’s visit and taking off work or dipping into savings and credit just to get treatment, you’re not alone. With no known cure, over 775,000 people are diagnosed with genital herpes each year, and UTIs are one of the most common infections plaguing Americans today. 

To make matters worse, such infections are likely to produce chronic or lifelong symptoms. In fact, 1 in 4 women who are diagnosed with a UTI have a recurrence within six months. It doesn’t feel right to have to go through the inconvenience and expense of an urgent care visit just to be told what you already know. Medication for UTI and other conditions shouldn’t be so difficult to access.

Healthcare Can Be a Serious Financial Burden

Healthcare in our current system doesn’t come cheap, even for people who have insurance. For those who don’t, finding affordable healthcare when you need it can be next to impossible. 

In the US from 2010 to 2018, the percentage of uninsured adults dropped from 20% down to 12%, which is a huge step in the right direction...or so it seems. Even though there are fewer uninsured Americans, the percentage of underinsured adults increased over the same time period, from 16% to 23%.

What does it mean to be underinsured? Underinsurance means that you have some health coverage, but for some reason—such as high deductibles or high out-of-pocket costs—you still have difficulty paying your medical bills. Nearly 44 million adults in the US are underinsured even though they are enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans. For adults who purchase health coverage on the individual market, nearly 42% are underinsured.

In 2019, a survey by the Federal Reserve found that 37% of adults would be unable to pay a $400 expense using cash or its equivalent. That’s especially problematic when the average cost of an emergency room (ER) visit in 2017 was $1,389. Also, in 2016, the average uninsured, non-elderly individual incurred $1,719 in healthcare expenses and paid $752 themselves. On top of all that, healthcare providers often charge uninsured patients between two and four times what health plans pay for the same services.

Even for the average American demographic with the most money in savings (55-64-year-old couples with children), the average ER bill would still swallow up nearly 8% of their total savings.

What does all of this mean? For the sizable population of uninsured or underinsured folks, accessing and paying for needed treatment becomes a choice between treatment and paying the rent.

Many Conditions Are Stigmatized

Beyond the financial burden of accessing healthcare, many conditions related to reproductive health are stigmatized, leading people to delay seeking treatment. In the case of STIs, like Genital Herpes or Chlamydia, the majority of carriers do not even know they have the infection and therefore make no lifestyle change to prevent further transmission to unsuspecting sexual partners.

When left untreated, other easily-treatable conditions can accelerate rapidly and lead to hospitalization (like a run-of-the-mill UTI becoming a kidney infection) and costly Urgent Care bills (remember that ridiculously high average ER cost of $1,389?). 

For conditions like cold sores and genital herpes, the stress of internalized stigma contributes to more frequent outbreaks, which in turn reinforces the stigma in a perpetual, negative cycle.

When shame, stigma, and stress team up with inaccessibility and high costs around some of the most common reproductive health conditions, the result is a culture of untreated illness that can only lead to more suffering.

Luckily, there’s a solution: enter telemedicine. With legions of doctors ready to move online, where the overhead costs of providing care are lower, telehealth companies connect patients with the resources they need, at an inclusive price point, which opens the door for millions of underinsured Americans to get treatment.

What Is Telehealth?

In short, telehealth describes the use of communication, video, and other technologies to connect patients to healthcare, sometimes over long distances. Video-chatting with a physician, forwarding data from your Fitbit to your care team, having your primary care doctor consult with a specialist in another state, and receiving prescriptions online are all forms of telehealth.

The telehealth market was large before the COVID-19 pandemic, with over 1 in 10 patients choosing telehealth in 2019. In the midst of the pandemic, that usage has shot up to nearly half of patients accessing needed care through telehealth channels. Financially, that means the telehealth market in the United States has surged from approximately $3 billion in yearly revenues to a potential $250 billion.

Now that many patients have their first telehealth experiences under their belts, the demand will likely grow. Just think—if you could talk to your therapist, your primary care physician, and your specialist all from the comfort of your own home, would you really miss going back to a crowded waiting room and sitting, reading old magazines, until your care provider was finally ready to see you?

Specialists In Reproductive Health

Telehealth is quickly making inroads to address the specific issues of access and discreet care for specific conditions that prove most troublesome for Americans. Providers like Wisp, an online community for female and male reproductive health, specialize in making care more accessible and affordable via a stigma-free, online platform.  

Signing up on a HIPAA compliant server only takes minutes and a US licensed doctor will review your symptoms and prescribe care if safe and appropriate. Their medical team treats patients in all 50 states and provides prescription medication and over the counter remedies, as well as STI consultation and primary care—whenever and wherever you need it.

Leveraging Telehealth to Bring Affordable Care to You

Wisp provides all the benefits of telehealth—convenience, accessibility, speed—along with:

If you needed treatment today for herpes, for example, here’s how that process works with wisp. All you have to do is navigate to wisp’s website and choose your medications using a quick online form. Within 24 hours, wisp doctors review your order and prescribe personalized treatment. You can choose free medication delivery in wisp’s discreet eco-friendly packaging or same-day pickup at your local pharmacy. Questions? You can chat with wisp’s pharmacy or medical team any day, any time.

No more sitting in a crowded waiting room for hours, explaining uncomfortable symptoms to yet another doctor, paying for a diagnostic test you don’t need, deferring care because it’s too expensive, or hiding your medications from prying eyes. Wisp combines convenience, discretion, quality clinical care, and budget-friendly access to necessary prescription treatments and preventive products.

Wisp Is Growing Every Day!

As wisp expands in response to the United States’ healthcare needs, our ability to keep you healthy will only grow. We were able to quickly mobilize and partner with labs at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March to roll out antibody testing, and we have birth control on the horizon.

With wisp, you also have access to Wisp Care online consultation, a service we offer for patients unable to get to the doctor for basic care needs. Maybe you need a bridge refill for existing blood pressure medications, but don’t have the time to go to your doctor. Wisp can help! We can also order your lab test to go get screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which is especially helpful in certain states that underfund Planned Parenthood and free clinics. 

Learn more about wisp here. Interested in joining our team? Let us know!