After experiencing a pandemic-powered surge in popularity, telemedicine is here to stay. Employers can no longer ignore the many advantages of offering telemedicine as an employee benefit.
Potential Benefits of Telemedicine
Budgets are tight. If you’re thinking about adding to your benefits package, you want to make sure it’s worth the investment.
Telemedicine deserves your attention. Telehealth services provide an alternative way to receive many types of care, including routine care, urgent care, chronic condition management, prenatal care and mental health care. Remote care has many advantages, and employees and employers alike stand to benefit.
Telemedicine Can Be Less Expensive
Telemedicine visits tend to cost less than in-person visits. According to Health Affairs, the average telehealth visit costs $79, whereas the average in-person visit costs $146.
However, this doesn’t mean you will necessarily reduce the overall cost of health care by offering telemedicine coverage in addition to coverage for in-person care. For example, let’s say an employee uses a telehealth visit, but it’s not possible to handle the health issue remotely. This means the employee will then need to set up an in-person visit. In this situation, costs will be higher than if the employee had just used in-person care. Likewise, if employees use telehealth for minor issues that they would normally handle on their own, total care costs may increase.
On the other hand, if employees use telehealth to manage their health proactively, costs may drop since employees won’t wait until their symptoms are severe and care becomes more expensive.
Telemedicine Can Improve Access to Health Care Providers
Improved access to health care services may be the biggest advantage of virtual care. This can positively impact patient outcomes and overall costs, especially for people who live in rural areas where it might be difficult and time-consuming to seek medical care, particularly if they need specialized care.
Even in more urban areas, telehealth visits may improve access to patient care for some people, such as those who have limited transportation options, mobility issues or frequent care needs, and consequently may not keep up with in-person appointments due to the hassle. Telemedicine may also be accessible outside of normal office hours, helping people access care without needing to resort to the emergency room.
According to research published in the Annual Review of Public Health, telemedicine has succeeded in improving health outcomes for certain medical conditions. This is also associated with cost savings. For example, telemedicine can help pregnant women achieve higher patient satisfaction while reducing prenatal stress. For people with diabetes, telemedicine can provide similar or even improved health outcomes. Telemedicine has also proven useful in the management and early detection of heart failure.
Telemedicine Takes Less Time
You need to see the doctor about a sinus infection. Since the appointment shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes, how much of your day do you have to clear? An hour? A couple of hours? The entire afternoon?
Even if you only talk to the doctor for a few minutes, medical appointments tend to take a long time. Doctors are notorious for running behind on their appointments, and all the time spent sitting in the waiting room or an exam room after getting your vitals taken can add up fast. Once you’ve accounted for the commute, you’re looking at a big chunk of your day.
Time is money. When employees miss hours of work for physical and mental health issues, productivity drops. With telehealth, this isn’t a problem. As there’s no commute time and minimal wait time, a 20-minute appointment may actually take 20 minutes.
The indirect savings from telemedicine may be significant. According to research published by JAMA Network, telehealth is associated with an estimated $1,637,407 total savings in productivity time, including $1,170,160 savings in productivity due to the lack of a commute and $467,247 savings in productivity due to the shorter visit time.
Telemedicine Prevents Contagion Risks When Seeking Medical Care
People typically go to the doctor because they’re sick. Not all of these patients have infectious diseases, but some do. While you’re sitting in the waiting room, you could be exposed to COVID-19, the flu, a cold or another virus. If your employees go to the doctor, they could catch a virus and then spread it throughout your entire workplace.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine surged in popularity because people were social distancing. Even in the absence of a pandemic, avoiding contagions may be a good reason to use telemedicine whenever possible. Remote patient monitoring may be especially attractive to employees with health issues that make them vulnerable to infection.
Telemedicine Can Boost Employee and Patient Satisfaction
Most people don’t enjoy going to the doctor. Telemedicine is convenient and lets people avoid many of the unpleasant aspects of in-person care, such as sitting in the waiting room with sick patients.
The J.D. Power 2022 U.S. Telehealth Satisfaction Study found 67 percent of people had used video telehealth services during the past year, up from 37 percent in 2019. Of the people who used telehealth in the last year, 94 percent said they definitely or probably will use telehealth again. People who used telehealth in the last year were also likely to prefer it over in-person care for:
- Prescription refills (80 percent)
- Reviewing their medication options (72 percent)
- Discussing test results (71 percent)
- Regular mental health visits (57 percent)
People like telemedicine because it’s convenient and comfortable. If you want your employees to be satisfied with their employee health plan, it makes sense to offer telehealth.
How many employers offer telemedicine?
Telemedicine benefits have become increasingly common additions to employee benefits packages. According to the 2022 KFF Employer Health Benefits Annual Survey, 87 percent of firms with 50 to 199 workers offer telemedicine benefits. Among larger firms, it’s even more common, with 96 percent offering telemedicine benefits.
Telehealth has become more popular in the past few years, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three years ago, only 65 percent of firms with 50 to 199 employees offered telemedicine.
With telemedicine benefits becoming so common, many workers likely expect them. If employers want to compete for talent, particularly smaller employers, they may need to offer telemedicine benefits.
How can employers offer telemedicine?
You can offer telehealth as part of a comprehensive group health plan or as a standalone benefit in conjunction with the primary health plan. If you’d like to learn more about the advantages of offering telemedicine as an employee benefit or see your options for providing telehealth benefits, Higginbotham can help. We offer employee benefits solutions that can help you attract and keep top talent. Learn more.