The Benefits of Telehealth In the Workplace
You’re probably familiar with Telemedicine, the use of electronic communication to exchange medical information either from patient to physician or between doctors. But did you know Telemedicine is helping to solve healthcare access problems and drive down the cost of care?
Telemedicine is capturing a lot of attention from employers recently, and with good reason. Medical costs are expected to continue to trend upward in the near future; PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute projects an increase of 6.5% in 2014. More employers are also implementing consumer-driven healthcare plans (CDHPs), which increase out-of-pocket medical expenses for plan participants. The rise in CDHP use is prompting both employers and employees to look for ways to offset out-of-pocket costs. An overlooked solution is Telemedicine, which is changing the way people seek and get medical advice, diagnoses and prescriptions.
While Telemedicine has been around in one way shape or form for a long time, advances in communication technologies and the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) focus on efficient and cost-effective care have helped reshape this approach to healthcare delivery. Telemedicine has come a long way from connecting patients in far-off places with a doctor possessing a particular expertise. Today, Telemedicine puts a subscriber (i.e., an employee) in touch with a U.S. board-certified physician in their state to treat common ailments such as colds and flu, sinus infections, allergies, pink eye, etc. Telemedicine gives the patient direct access to a doctor 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year. The consultation can take place by a phone call, email or a web-based video call, and may include discussing symptoms, treatment options and prescriptions. Telemedicine consultations are a supplement for non-emergency treatment and visits to a primary care physician. And best of all, Telemedicine helps make healthcare affordable.
What’s the advantage for employers?
Including Telemedicine as a part of an overall portfolio of group employee benefits has become an important healthcare cost containment tool. Telemedicine reduces office co-pays for employees and claim costs to the employer’s group healthcare plan. In a study1 of 17,000 telemedicine participants, hospital admissions dropped by 30% and doctor visits were reduced by 60% for a savings of 45% in unnecessary doctor and emergency room visits.
The American Medical Association (AMA) states that 70% of doctor’s office visits can be handled over the phone and 50% of ER visits are non-emergencies. Telemedicine’s savings in claim costs range from $300 per year for a single employee or more than $1,000 per year for a family of four.2 Rent-A-Center, a nationwide furniture rental company, saved approximately $800,000 in direct healthcare costs and employee productivity through the use of Telemedicine.3.
What’s the advantage for the employees?
As described above, Telemedicine provides a subscriber with quick access to a doctor over the phone, email or video call. Unlike an urgent care center, doctor’s office, or emergency room, there is no waiting for an appointment in a room full of other sick people. Telemedicine has been found to be an efficient route to care—97% of patients are treated in their first dial-in attempt with an average response time of eight minutes.4When appropriate, the consulting doctor can prescribe a medication and send the prescription to the employee’s preferred pharmacy. This program can often eliminate visits to a primary care doctor, urgent care center, or ER and the high costs associated with those visits.
But it’s important to note that all workers in an organization—those who qualify for group benefits and those who do not—can benefit from using Telemedicine. A Telemedicine program can be bundled into your group medical insurance coverage or offered as a voluntary benefit. For employees who can’t afford to pay the premium for group benefits, or who are part-time, 1099 contract workers, or seasonal, Telemedicine can give them direct access to affordable healthcare.
Choosing the right partner
Consider the following criteria when considering a Telemedicine vendor for your organization:
- Are the physicians in the vendor’s Telemedicine offering required to complete a credentialing process?
- Is the process of reaching an actual doctor (not a nurse or nurse-practitioner) simple, convenient and fast? Vendors who promise that a caller will get a call back “within a few hours” should be avoided.
- Does the vendor offer access via multiple contact channels–phone, email and video conference?
- Can the doctor write a prescription when appropriate?
- What is the complete cost of the benefit? This is an area where vendors vary greatly. Some Telemedicine vendors charge a monthly per member fee plus a copay for each call made. The vendor may set a monthly limit as to how many calls a member can make. Part of the argument in favor of Telemedicine is to help employees avoid a copay at the doctor’s office. So, look for a Telemedicine vendor who doesn’t require a copay or a maximum monthly call limit. There are a few quality vendors in the industry that charge an affordable monthly fee and offer unlimited calls per month with no copays.
- Does the vendor take a complete survey of the patient’s pertinent medical information upon enrollment and forward the information from each call to the employee’s primary care physician? Information integration is crucial to providing proper care.
- Finally, does the vendor have a history of proven success working with employees and helping employers save money? Ask for proof.
Implementing the program
A successful Telemedicine program begins with changing employee behavior toward accessing medical care. The implementation of a program should include a well-designed employee education and communication campaign on the benefits of using this service. Employers should choose a broker/consulting partner with a proven track record of designing and implementing communication and education campaigns that increase awareness and engagement in benefit programs. This will ensure a successful implementation and put both the employer and the employee in the best position to reap the benefits of Telemedicine.