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How Telemedicine Benefits Employers and Employees

Thad Brown
Thad Brown, Director, Strategic Client Accounts and Planning

An interview with Thad Brown, Director, Strategic Client Accounts and Planning, on the increasing use of telemedicine in employer health plans—and how it profits both employers and employees.

What is telemedicine used for? 

Telemedicine, or telehealth, is a 24/7 virtual visit with a medical doctor by phone, video chat or email. Instead of a trip to the Emergency Room or an appointment with a Primary Care Physician, many medical conditions can be treated with greater cost savings.

Some of the illnesses or conditions appropriate for treatment by telemedicine are:

  • Animal bites

  • Bronchitis

  • Bumps, cuts and scrapes

  • Sunburn or minor burns

  • Urinary tract infection

  • Cold and flu symptoms

  • Cough, sore throat

  • Earache

  • Eye swelling or irritation

  • Fever, minor

  • Rash or bumps

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

  • Respiratory infection

  • Sinus pressure or pain

How many employers offer telemedicine as a health plan benefit?

In 2017, 90% of large employers planned to make telemedicine available to their employee population. For all sizes of employers, another national survey found that 78% offered telemedicine for office visits.

Employers and employees like the advantages telemedicine provides:  

  • Less wait time for a primary care appointment

  • Personalized treatment plans, helping to eliminate self-diagnosis

  • Less time away from work, resulting in increased productivity  

How much does telemedicine save for employers and employees?

Great question! The short answer is that it depends on your health plan. Some employers encourage participation by subsidizing part of the cost. Examples of potential savings are illustrated below. 

Teladoc savings

Source: https://www.teladoc.com/businesses/health-plans

MedCost employers are seeing a very positive return on investment of 8.9:1 from those who offer telemedicine.  

One of our clients achieved a 37% reduction in Emergency Room visits with telemedicine benefits.

Are behavioral health services available in telemedicine?

Yes, many plans now have added the service of behavioral health professionals on call. Employers realize that mental health can affect work performance and even lead to more chronic health issues.

  • Employees suffering from depression average 9.9 sick days per year due to depression   

  • This results in employers losing 4.6 hours per week in productivity and short-term disability.  

In 2017, depression became one of the top five chronic conditions treated in employee health plans, due to increased use of behavioral health services. Even 5% of a population being treated for mental health can cost an average of over $14,500 per member per year.  

Our clients are experiencing a return on investment of more than 3:1 for behavioral health services. Telemedicine can be used to address behavioral health needs by providing access to psychiatry, therapy and counseling services.

When leveraged together, medical and behavioral health telemedicine services can increase access to difficult specialties and produce both a short-term and long-term ROI.

This post is one in a series that explores key ways that employers can structure health plan benefits to manage costs for both employers and employees. Our next post will examine how wise administration of chronic diseases (high blood pressure, high cholesterol and more) can conserve costs and improve the health of your employees.

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