Telemedicine (or telehealth) has become somewhat common in most employee-distributed health care plans. It’s not exactly a complicated or new concept: A patient consults a doctor or other health care professional over the phone or via videoconferencing. It took time to be widely adopted, picking up steam in the 1990s and really taking off throughout the 2000s and 2010s. Now, amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine benefits likely appear more attractive than ever to both businesses and their staff.
With the significant increase in the number of employee working remotely, it’s critical for employers and HR/benefit teams to fully recognize and take advantage of the key perks of telemedicine. These benefits include:
- providing your employees and their families with convenient and safe access to licensed medical professionals to keep them physically and mentally healthy; and,
- potential cost savings for your employees and the company
How telemedicine helps employees
Your employees can benefit from telemedicine no matter where they are working. They and their families can save time by eliminating a trip to the doctor for minor illnesses or injuries or chronic but not actively life-threatening conditions. They also can eliminate concerns about contracting COVID-19 while the virus is still a threat. (It should be noted that there are some regulatory limitations on what telemedicine can be used to treat, usually varying from state-to-state, so HR will want to know these and communicate those limits to employees.)
Having a telemedicine option is particularly important now given the impact the pandemic has had on hospitals, emergency rooms and brick-and-mortar medical facilities. But post-COVID, telemedicine technology will continue to be incredibly helpful, particularly to those with disabilities or other ongoing physical and mental health conditions who would often avoid actual trips to the doctor’s office when possible.
Telemedicine’s benefits become even more clear when looking at the long-term impact: Research published in the American Journal of Managed Care noted that patients using telemedicine services had 38% fewer hospital admissions and 31% fewer re-admissions. The study also showed that these patients became more engaged with their health care services overall.
Finally, there are distinct financial perks for telemedicine users. Another study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that patients (and employers overseeing their health plans) saw net cost savings of up to $121 per visit when they took part in “on-demand synchronous audio-video telemedicine” (i.e., the kind most commonly used today).
Advantages for employers
Employers that offer telemedicine benefits may experience notable long-term reductions in health care expenses. Specifically, the Northwest Regional Telehealth Resource Center pointed out that patients who might ordinarily go to a local emergency room or urgent care facility for an unclear ailment might not have to because of telehealth, which cuts down on the emergency transport costs that impact payers. Moreover, individuals often don’t have to wait as long to schedule a virtual consult compared to a typical doctor’s appointment – so if they receive care earlier, they may nip a medical problem in the bud before it gets worse and requires treatment that’ll likely be more expensive for the employer.
Companies gradually transitioning to partial or full on-premises work as stay-at-home orders lift can also use telemedicine to alleviate certain employee concerns regarding COVID-19. While it’s not possible to virtually test for the new coronavirus disease, TouchCare CEO Rob LaHayne explained in a recent webinar conducted with PeopleStrategy that the technology is ideal for symptom checks and casual consults: Employees who report COVID-like symptoms can be asked to have a telehealth visit, and if the doctor believes the signs merit an actual test or to self-quarantine, HR can ensure these workers don’t come to the office and present infection risks.
Emerging telemedicine benefits
Digital behavioral health is arguably the biggest area of current growth for telemedicine, LaHayne noted. Employers were focusing more significantly on employees’ behavioral health, but the isolation and anxiety the pandemic has caused has drastically increased the need for such services. Telemedicine makes it easy for workers – and their families, including children – to connect with therapists and psychiatrists from the privacy of home and develop strategies for dealing with stress and other mental issues. Any organization considering a telemedicine solution as part of their benefits package should ensure behavioral health is readily available with that tool.
Today’s telemedicine platforms also come with cutting-edge service possibilities for improving employees’ overall health care experiences. For example, TouchCare – a PeopleStrategy partner – is a revolutionary digital concierge service that helps employees navigate the complexities of healthcare. It also offers several specific telemedicine consult services as add-ons. Couple that with the ease of benefits administration through PeopleStrategy’s HR technology suite and the range of coverage and services we offer as a licensed broker, and you have a truly comprehensive strategy for remote and on-site workforce health management.