Recent studies have shown that telemedicine can yield significant savings for group health plans and covered employees – but only if the employees actually use it.
While telemedicine has penetrated the ranks of large employers (96% say they make it available to their employees), 20% of employers say that less than one-tenth of their workers actually use it.
The main thrust of telemedicine is to give workers the option to talk to a health care provider over the phone or by video link about a health issue they may be having. Maybe waiting for an appointment slot to open with their doctor would take too long, or perhaps driving to the doctor’s office may be unfeasible for whatever reason.
Telemedicine can also enable employees looking to save money to avoid paying copays and other fees by having access to someone. This can reduce the likelihood that an illness is left untreated, which increases treatment costs in the end, especially if they have to go to the emergency room for treatment.
Unfortunately, even though nearly all large employers offer telemedicine (and about 34% of small and mid-sized businesses do), very few workers use it.
Convenience – For many people it’s hard to take time out of the day to go to the doctor, particularly in areas where access to care is limited. For non-serious cases, telemedicine is a good option. If the physician or nurse feels that symptoms are serious, they can always ask the covered individual to come in for an appointment.
Cost savings – Just by its nature, telemedicine can save money, particularly for individuals who habitually go to ER or urgent care for routine services. Telemedicine can be marketed to employees as a much less expensive alternative for after-hours care.
Managing chronic illness – Telemedicine is ideal for employees with chronic conditions who may have a hard time getting to regular doctors’ appointments. Technology exists that can transmit health data from a patient’s home to a doctor’s office.
Many people are uneasy about working with a provider over a VDO link if they have had no prior patient relationship with them.
You can address these concerns by:
• Highlighting credentials of doctors in the telemedicine network.
• Working with your broker or health insurers to try to change plan designs in order to eliminate copays for telemedicine.
• Setting aside a room at your offices where your staff can access telehealth services, particularly if they have chronic conditions that may need monitoring on a regular basis.
• Choosing the right vendor, which is crucial. Evaluate vendors based on patient satisfaction, the quality of the providers and the breadth of specialties available.
A telehealth success story
In 2017, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) in Virginia began offering telemedicine services to its workers. It first started it as a pilot program for 5,000 enrollees that volunteered.
With many of its employees working in the field, the power company aimed to replace urgent care visits with telemedicine, as well as providing access to behavioral health counseling and chronic-condition management.
The association started by sending information to all of its employees’ homes and offering them a free soup mug with the provider’s logo on it. After volunteers who had used the services spread the word, other employees started asking about the service.
The participation rate for the pilot program in 2017 was 15%, which was well above the industry average of about 4%.
Additionally, the power company saved $6 for every dollar. This was based on questionnaires the employees had filled out, in which many of them said they would have otherwise gone to ER or urgent care for the issues they covered during their telemedicine visit.
Due to the strong pilot program success, the NRECA this year made the program available to all of its members.