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 employees of many businesses currently working from home on a full- or part-time basis, it’s critical for you and your HR team to truly recognize – and take advantage of – the key perks of telemedicine. These benefits range from the comfort and health of your employees to the cost savings that positively affect the organization’s bottom line.
How telemedicine helps employees
Your company’s staff can see benefits from telemedicine whether they’re still regularly working at home or participating in a phased return to work, such as half at home/half in the office. They and their families don’t have to worry about leaving the house to receive proper treatment for either minor illnesses or injuries or chronic but not actively life-threatening conditions. (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 it’ll be critical for HR to know these before adopting a virtual health system and be transparent with employees about what those limits are.)
For now, that’s especially important given the continued threats of COVID-19 and how the disease’s cases have overwhelmed many brick-and-mortar medical facilities. In the years to come after this crisis, 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 clearer when looked at long-term: 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. Additionally, the study showed that these users 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 you’ll most commonly see today).
Advantages for employers
Employers can see 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 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 self-quarantining, 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 well before COVID-19 hit, and the isolation and anxiety the pandemic caused 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 find the best health benefits for them, review bills, negotiate with providers and plan for major procedures. It also offers several specific telemedicine consult services as add-ons. Couple that with the ease of benefits administration guaranteed by PeopleStrategy’s software 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.