Today’s employers face a unique problem on a scope no employer has seen before. The cost of healthcare has risen steadily over the past decade. The National Business Group on Health has estimated the cost of employee healthcare for an individual will increase to $14,800 in 2019.
At the same time, more Americans than ever live somewhere that has a shortage of doctors. According to a 2018 UnitedHealthcare study, 13 percent of Americans, or 44 million people, live in a county with a shortage of primary care physicians.
So, as an employer, how are you supposed to decrease the cost of care while simultaneously increasing the quality of care? For many, this may seem an impossible task. Luckily, The Olson Group has a solution for you. Keep reading to learn about this answer, what advantages it can bring your business, and how to implement it in your organization.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine, according to BenefitsPro, is the remote delivery of healthcare services and clinical information using the internet, wireless, satellite, and telephone technology. Put simply; telemedicine is seeing a doctor or nurse via technology.
The Pros of Telemedicine?
Improved Quality of Care
There is a plethora of advantages telemedicine can bring to your firm. The first edge this benefit brings is improved quality of care. Through telemedicine, you can access the healthcare system easier and quicker than before. And the timeliness of care is critical for better quality of care.
The timelier your care is, the more likely you are to get and remain healthy. According to BenefitsPro, speaking to a nurse via a telemedicine service typically takes two minutes. Also, usual responses from a doctor via telehealth occur within hours.
More Convenient Access to Care
Another advantage of telehealth is more convenient and broader access to care. In the U.S., there is a real shortage of specialists for those residing in rural areas of the country. For every 100,000 rural patients, there are only 43 specialists available.
A telemedicine system can connect your staff to a global network with access to resources and services that would be unavailable under a traditional health plan. For example, those in rural areas can connect remotely to a specialist without having to leave their home.
A Healthier Workforce
The third benefit of telehealth is a healthier workforce. For starters, telemedicine can help alleviate stress caused by taking time off work for appointments. Nine in 10 Americans stated they would cancel or reschedule a preventative care appointment due to workplace pressures.
Similarly, as previously stated, telemedicine helps improve the timeliness of care. This timeliness can help improve the health of your workforce. One study demonstrated telehealth patients score lower for depression, anxiety, stress, and have 38 percent fewer hospital admissions.
But the single most significant advantage of telemedicine is the cost savings. Telehealth services work to lower healthcare costs for both employees and employers. The first way telemedicine saves money is through better management of chronic health conditions. Diagnosing and managing chronic conditions consumes 84 percent of healthcare dollars in the U.S. alone.
Telemedicine also saves money by reducing the number of physical doctor’s appointments and unnecessary visits to urgent care or the emergency room. Before your workers go to a specialist or an ER, they can first consult a doctor via telehealth to determine whether such a visit is necessary or not.
Overall, telehealth can be an enormous money saver for employers. Some experts, per BenefitsPro, have determined telemedicine visits for the most common health conditions save employers an average of $472 per episode of care. And, the American Hospital Association reported savings of 11 percent for those operating a telehealth program.
How to Implement an Effective Telemedicine Program
So, we now know all the possible advantages of a telehealth plan. But how do you implement one? Here are the five best tips to help you enact a telemedicine program of your own.
The first step toward implementation begins with education. You must educate your employees, so they fully understand the benefits of the telemedicine program. The better your staff knows their benefits, the better they can utilize the advantages the program provides.
A 2017 study from Avizia found 18 percent of employees are unaware their benefits package includes telemedicine. Inform employees of their benefits and train them on the basics of using your plan’s telehealth service. Employers need to address three basic questions:
- What conditions can telemedicine treat?
- How can I access it?
- Which providers are offered?
2. Offer it as a Standalone Benefit
Another tip to better implement a telemedicine program is to offer it as a standalone benefit rather than a piece of a fully-insured medical plan. This distinction is necessary to maximize your telehealth plan’s engagement.
Tele-med plans offered as a part of a major medical plan typically have a $10 – $20 copay per utilization. Standalone plans, on the other hand, most commonly use a per employee per month (PEPM) fee which remains level regardless of usage.
For some, this may not seem like a significant disparity, but it makes a real difference to employees, and their likelihood of using the program. Per BenefitsPro, when telemedicine is paid for by the employer, or at least made affordable, and is well-communicated to the plan member, utilization jumps.
3. Utilize Technology
A third tip to boost your telehealth plan’s effectiveness is to employ modern technology. For example, using a mobile app can lead to significant increases in plan utilization. According to a 2017 Pew Research study, 77 percent of U.S. adults say they own a smartphone. If you have a telemedicine plan, but don’t offer a smartphone app, your program won’t be as effective as possible.
4. Answer Questions
An additional piece of advice to improve your telemedicine plan is to answer questions. Like any facet of the healthcare system, people have a lot of questions and misunderstandings about telemedicine. Don’t merely rely on old handouts and recycled emails to address these questions.
Your company can use a multitude of more creative methods to educate employees about this benefit. For example, you can use an AMA (ask me anything), where employees can anonymously ask questions, to answer real questions your employees have, and they can use it as a future reference.
Other forms of communication, such as a video or a game, are more likely to be used by your employees. Subsequently, the more your employees engage with this educational information, the more likely they are to optimize their telemedicine utilization.
5. Destigmatize Mental Health
The final tip to help your organization implement a telehealth program is to try and destigmatize mental health and the mental health offerings your telemedicine plan offers. Mental health of workers is vital for employers to monitor and protect.
Like physical health, it’s beneficial for your company to track and promote your employees’ mental wellbeing. Depression alone, in the U.S., costs businesses over $44 billion annually in lost productivity. And, despite the adverse impact of mental health issues, Mental Health America reports 56.5 percent of adults with mental illness received no past year treatment.
But, one of the most meaningful advantages of telehealth are the benefits it can provide for those seeking proper mental healthcare. Employees, through telemedicine, can form stable relationships with mental health providers that would otherwise be unavailable to them.
Inform employees what mental health treatments are covered by telehealth in all your educational materials. And, educate all employees on mental health issues in an effort to destigmatize the topic and promote treatment.
As a modern employer, you face a combination of rising healthcare costs and a smaller number of providers, per capita. Short of founding a new healthcare organization, telemedicine is one of your best options to improve your employee’s quality of care while simultaneously reducing the price they pay for it.