Telemedicine: How Will It Affect Employers?

COVID-19 has caused many drastic changes in our business operations, the exponential growth in telemedicine’s availability and acceptance being among the more positive ones. We take a look at the ramifications for employers’ benefits packages and workers’ wellbeing.

Why Telemedicine Boomed in 2020

The technology for teleconference or VOiP consultations with healthcare professionals has been around for a while, mainly in the form of HMO-required nurse hotlines to screen patients and avoid emergency care costs. However, the medical establishment of doctors and hospitals resisted any more extensive use, citing the necessity for in-person diagnosis. They were also concerned about reduced payments for telemed as opposed to office visits and ultimately, the replacement of human doctors with machine learning avatars.

With the onset of COVID-19, these objections were forced to take a back seat. Patients were afraid or unable to visit doctor’s offices and hospitals in person; medical facilities were swamped with coronavirus patients and couldn’t handle any other routine or urgent care. Now the choice for most people was either remote care or no care at all. The result was delayed care, poorer outcomes and more expensive medical bills.

In response, obstacles to the implementation of telemedicine benefits were rapidly removed. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services empowered HIPAA-covered providers to deliver telehealth services. The CMS allowed people enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to receive telehealth services, and allowed providers to bill for a remote visit at the same rate as an in-person one.

The government websites are still referring to these changes as “temporary.” However, now that nearly all employer group health insurance plans include a telemedicine benefit, it will be hard to take that benefit away once people are used to having it.

Why Employees Love Telemedicine

Aside from COVID-19 issues, there are longstanding problems with the healthcare delivery system that telemedicine can alleviate.

  • Minimal or no wait time — Health care consumers typically wait weeks or even months for routine appointments. Virtual telemedicine appointments can happen immediately. This is of particular value to patients with chronic conditions who need periodic check-ins.
  • Convenient access — Employees can simply connect with a doctor or nurse from their smartphone, log into a web-based communication system or call a toll-free number. Care is available at any time of the day or night.
  • Comprehensive access — Location is no longer an obstacle to employees who live in areas with limited healthcare facilities.

Why Employers Love Telemedicine

These advantages will last long after the pandemic is finished.

  • Reduced healthcare costs: A telemedicine visit costs around $50, while an in-person PCP visit can be as much as $150 and an ER visit $650. Lower costs result in lower insurance premiums.
  • Increased attendance: Employees can avoid taking time off for in-person medical appointments. And with better access to care (as described above), their overall health will be improved and they’ll need fewer sick outs.
  • Reduced attrition rate: Offering a telemedicine benefit can improve employee morale and provide an additional incentive for job candidates.

Telemedicine for Business Continuity

Employee health and safety are taking high priority right now; and it’s clear that telemedicine is an essential part of business continuity plans. By minimizing absenteeism and protecting the workplace from the spread of infectious disease, it’s a valuable tool for preventing operational disruptions.

At Integrity, we’re providing virtual care options for both physical and mental health concerns to all of our employees, associates and their families — all of which they can use without incurring added deductions or copays to their benefits package. We believe that employee wellbeing isn’t important only to themselves, but to the health of the entire organization.

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