Telemedicine on phone If their telemedicine visit doesn’t cost anything, employees are more likely to give it a chance and keep using it. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Why in the world are we still talking about telemedicine the same way we have for the last five or so years? With 90 percent of large employers expected to offer it to their employees in 2019, I’m pretty sure clients get the gist and you may feel as though the box is checked. Yet, I still have conversations weekly that lead to a refreshed approach.

I propose we have a different conversation about telemedicine. Here are six ways to move the conversation from what telemedicine is and why your clients should offer it, to how to build an effective, successful program.

Remove the visit fee

Remove the visit fee at every opportunity. Mercer research found that groups with greater than 10 percent average utilization had a median copay of $15, compared to the less than 6 percent average utilization of groups with a $30 median copay.

If their telemedicine visit doesn’t cost anything, employees are more likely to give it a chance and keep using it. And if they really like it, they’ll spread the word.

Make it relatable

Even though telemedicine could be the perfect solution a lot of employees need, they might not understand exactly when to use it, how it saves them money, and why it’s applicable to their lives. Make the service relatable and relevant by sharing a personal story of how you used telemedicine to cure your cold on vacation or get a prescription for your kid’s nausea in the middle of the night.

And if you haven’t used telemedicine yourself, that’s your first step.

Separate it from the health plan

CFO.com published an article last year on reaping the benefits of telemedicine from Beth Umland, director of research for Mercer’s health business, in which she says:

“It’s…worth considering the quality of the telemedicine program offered. The average utilization rate is twice as high for (employers contracted with a specialty telemedicine vendor) — 12 percent versus 6 percent among those offering through the health plan — even though the average copay amounts are virtually the same.”

When you separate telemedicine from the health plan, you have a greater opportunity to put the service in the spotlight rather than it getting lost under the insurance details. You’re also able to redirect claims and reduce out-of-pocket spending.

Simplify access

If you’re asking employees to change their healthcare behavior, you need to make it as easy as possible. Keep access information (instructions, phone number, log-in details, etc.) with the rest of your benefits communications so employees know where to find it when they need it.

Another reason to keep telemedicine separate from the health plan: the service isn’t disrupted if the medical plan changes, so employees have consistent access to their virtual care without having to learn a new provider.

Engage employees

Increase participation by promoting telemedicine at benefit fairs, webinars, through traditional communication and promotional pieces, and by tying it to wellness incentives.

Ask employers how they typically communicate any type of announcement to their employees, from insurance info to details on the holiday party. Is it putting a flyer on the back of bathroom stalls? Postcard sent through direct mail? Email? If it’s already effective, don’t reinvent the wheel. These same channels should be used to regularly send out communications about the usefulness of telemedicine.

Expand the program

Telehealth continues to expand, with services for behavioral health counseling, dermatology, lower back pain, and expert second opinions.

Mental health is an especially crucial issue right now, costing employers billions in healthcare expenses and lost productivity. One in five Americans face a mental health issue at any given time, and depression costs an estimated $79 to $105 billion per year in lost productivity. Easy access to treatment removes the stigma of therapy and encourages use, further making a positive impact on health outcomes.

Switch up your script

If you’re ready to stop using the old telemedicine script, go ahead and change the conversation. Remove the barriers (like high visit fees), simplify access, and enhance the experience with more opportunities to receive virtual care.

Jake Cleer is vice president of sales at New Benefits. Jake tailors non-insured benefit programs to a number of the top 50 brokerage and consulting firms around the country. He builds strategy with consultants and account management teams to embed telehealth, advocacy, and other products, helping their clients add value to the employee benefit offering while redirecting claims from their health plan.


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