Are your employees wishing for access to telemedicine? Consider these perspectives from two young employees at The Alliance. One Alliance staff member was not able to use telemedicine, but
wished she had the option.
“I had to take a day off work to take my 7-month-old to a follow-up appointment that was at a hospital instead of our usual clinic. All she needed was an X-ray and a consultation with a specialist. If she could have had her X-ray done at the clinic down the street, and the 10-minute talk with the specialist over a video chat, I would have done that in a heartbeat. I could have saved that vacation day.”
Another employee was able to get a diagnosis via email for the first time.
“I recently came down with a really bad cold. I tried waiting it out to see if would get better, but after about a week I still wasn’t feeling better and I didn’t have a voice. I hit my breaking point on a
Saturday afternoon when my doctor’s office is closed. My husband suggested an e-visit.
“The process was easy; I simply logged in to our health plan and clicked on ‘e-visits.’ Using a list of common symptoms, I checked the ones that applied to me. Then I answered a series of questions
and verified information from my medical record. I had the option of being contacted by phone or email and picked email. Within an hour, the on-call provider emailed me with a diagnosis of an upper
respiratory infection and laryngitis, including instructions for getting plenty of rest, fluids and medication.
“The $20 fee for this service was well worth it. I didn’t have to drive and sit in a waiting room infecting others only to have the doctor make a diagnosis and send me home. It saved time and energy and eased my mind.”
I recently attended the World Health Congress in Washington, D.C., where experts predicted that telemedicine will be quickly adopted and widely used.
Dr. Henry DePhillips, chief medical officer at Teladoc Inc., noted that Towers Watson predicts that 37 percent of large employers will offer telemedicine to employees by the end of 2015. That same Towers Watson analysis projects that telemedicine could produce $6 billion in health care savings for employers.
Teladoc currently offers 24/7 telemedicine services to U.S. employers and health plans. At the time of the World Health Congress, telemedicine was approved for all states but Arkansas, but the Texas Medical Board has since voted to severely restrict access to telemedicine over the objections of Teladoc and some employers.
DePhillips shared some of Teladoc’s findings:
- A Teladoc
- appointment via telephone or video chat has an 8-minute average response time. That compares to 18.5 days to get a face-to-face visit with a new primary care physician.
- More than 90 percent of patients’ issues can be handled completely in a single telemedicine call.
- Each telemedicine consult saves the payer $673, based on comparing the Teladoc consult cost to the weighted average cost of alternatives such as seeing a doctor or going to the emergency room.
Getting a Boost
Experts at the World Health Congress predicted telemedicine will get a boost from the growing use of smartphones; employers’ adoption of high-deductible health plans, which typically increase employees’ out-of-pocket costs; and a growing shortage of doctors.
For example, telemedicine can play a role in:
- Linking consumers in rural or isolated areas to specialist care.
- Monitoring chronic conditions.
- Increasing access to specialties such as dermatology, with a photo or video of the affected area used for diagnosis.
- Behavioral medicine diagnosis and treatment
- Follow-up care for patients after they leave the hospital.
Some providers in The Alliance network already offer some of these telemedicine services. The Alliance structures its network agreements to include all services offered by the provider, which means employees and family members who use The Alliance for care already have access to some forms of telemedicine.
Telemedicine can also be used to provide onsite care for employers. For example, the Mayo Clinic is currently piloting a worksite program that combines a private, walk-in kiosk that offers videoconferencing and digital medical devices to diagnose and treat minor health issues.
The shift from providing care in the doctor’s office to providing care at home or at work may be unsettling for patients who prefer face-to-face contact with providers.
But patients who are driven by convenience – especially the 18- to 34-year-olds in the Millennial Generation – could quickly come to prefer telemedicine.
Upcoming learning opportunity: The Alliance plans to help employers explore telemedicine with an Alliance Learning Circle event in July. Watch our events section for details.
Related content: Growing Telemedicine Trend Combines Convenience and Savings, by Paul Roelke, member services advisor.
Dernovsek has more than 25 years' experience in communications, public relations and marketing. From 1992 until joining The Alliance, Dernovsek owned her own freelance marketing and writing business to provide marketing consulting and writing for health-care related entities and credit union organizations. Earlier, she was the director of public relations for Rockford Memorial Hospital and city editor for the Beloit Daily News.
Dernovsek graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism.
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