Telehealth: A Powerful New Tool for Controlling Costs and Increasing Productivity

Posted in: Employee Benefits

In this era of requirements and changes associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), keeping costs down while still providing a competitive benefits package has become a constant struggle for large and mid-sized employers. The two most common means of controlling costs—neither of them particularly palatable—have been (1) lowering the level of coverage for employees and (2) raising deductibles.

While those two strategies will continue to be considered by employers, there are other options to explore.

Telehealth—a service that connects patients and doctors by email, video chat via the Internet or over the phone—offers a way to keep employees and their families healthy while saving the employees and their employers both time and money.

How it works

With telehealth programs, many non-chronic and common medical issues can be handled over the phone or via videoconferencing, including sinus problems, urinary tract infections, upper respiratory infections, ear infections, pink eye, the flu, bronchitis, and allergies. Telehealth services are not, however, designed for treatment of emergency medical conditions or for treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease, which require the patient to be under a doctor’s in-person care.

Today, there are a growing number of telehealth service providers in the market, including freshbenies, HealthiestYou, Teladoc, and MDLive. Participating doctors vary in terms of their specialty and range of experience, but the average doctor providing telehealth services has 15 or more years of experience.

Telehealth providers typically charge a small monthly fee, ranging from $5 to $9 per family, which can be paid by the employer, the employee, or a combination of both. Offerings vary with different telehealth providers, but typical services include:

  • Email, phone, and video consultations
  • Filling of prescriptions
  • Specialist referral services
  • Online wellness consultations

Some providers also offer optional services for a slightly higher monthly fee, including:

  • Email consultation with specialists
  • Medical bill and claims advocacy
  • Medical health advisor
  • Health discounts
  • Prescription discounts
  • Dental and vision discounts

Telehealth can be a win-win solution both for employers and employees. Combining telehealth services with your benefits plan can decrease out of pocket costs for your organization and your employees. Other benefits of using a telehealth service include:

  • Quick, convenient, and increased access to care and support for employees and their families. In general, telehealth doctors call you back within about 15 minutes, which eliminates unreasonably long wait times in doctor’s offices for routine matters.
  • Increased productivity. Because employees do not have to travel to and from the doctor’s office, they can stay at work, get diagnosed, and fill prescriptions faster.
  • Savings on unnecessary medical claims. Most telehealth consultations are included in the small monthly fee. And ease of access for patients means they will get simple problems resolved early—reducing costly visits to the doctor’s office or emergency room.
  • Reduced HR support hours. Rather than being bogged down by answering employee questions related to claims and benefits, or by scrambling to find replacements for workers who are gone half the day at doctors’ appointments, your HR team can shift focus to more strategic organizational initiatives.

Choosing the right provider

Businesses are increasingly seeing the value of telehealth. According to a 2014 Towers Watson survey, some 37% of employers planned to offer telehealth consultations in 2015; another 34% planned to do so by 2017.

With the number of choices and services offered, it can be overwhelming to select the most appropriate telehealth solution for your employees and their families. Here are few considerations to guide your decision-making:

  • Unlimited consultation. It is important to choose a provider that includes unlimited consultation (phone, email, and video chat) in the monthly fee because you want your employees to use the service as often as possible.
  • Cloud-based technology. Make sure your telehealth provider offers online access to a portal and stores patient medical data in the cloud for your employees to access their personal information quickly, anytime, anywhere.
  • Mobile app. While not all providers offer a mobile app, those that do offer an additional level of convenience, allowing patients to communicate when they need information on the go. Some of the best apps include features for locating the nearest physician, researching prescription drugs and their costs, accessing the history of your activity (calls, messages sent to your doctor), and accessing your medical records—as well as the capability to take a photo of your condition and upload it to the online portal for the doctor’s review.

Beyond these considerations, the type of telehealth services you select will ultimately depend on the needs of your employees and how much the program would improve the cost of your employee benefits plan.

It is important to identify the most appropriate telehealth provider that best complements your employee benefits plan to control healthcare costs. Contact me at JGreif@psafinancial.com to learn more or if you need any assistance selecting a telehealth provider.

 

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