Telemedicine is “the use of electronic information and communications technologies to provide and support health care when distance separates the participants.” This definition comes from an article published in 1996 by the National Academy of Sciences.
Obviously, telemedicine has been around for decades. In recent years, however, the practice has gained immense steam. In fact, telemedicine is now a core aspect of many employers’ group health plans.
If your group health plan does not include telemedicine, here are five reasons it should.
1. Employers are covering telemedicine at a staggering rate.
A 2019 survey by Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that most large employers offering group health benefits include telemedicine in their plan. The number of large firms doing so increased sharply over time — from 27% in 2015 to 63% in 2017 to 82% in 2019.
Moreover, a 2020 KFF survey revealed that “85% of firms with 50 or more workers offering health benefits cover the provision of health care services through telemedicine in their largest health plan, higher than the percentage last year.”
2. Telemedicine can reduce health care costs.
Telemedicine services are delivered remotely, via means such as mobile apps and video calls. While telemedicine can be used for various ailments, it is not appropriate for situations needing immediate or definitive in-person care.
That said, telemedicine can be much less expensive than in-person care. In 2017, Health Affairs reported that on average, a telehealth visit costs $79, compared to an average of $146 for a physician office visit and $1,734 for an emergency department (ED) visit.
Per an article published in the American Journal of Managed Care, “Most studies find that at least 30% of all ED visits in the US are non-urgent.” Often, these non-urgent issues can be more cost-effectively resolved through telemedicine.
3. Telemedicine is convenient and safe.
With telemedicine, employees do not have to spend time or money traveling to the doctor’s office, as the meetings are held remotely. Also, telemedicine patients do not have to sit in crowded waiting rooms — thereby lowering the threat of exposure to infectious diseases.
4. Telemedicine helps improve employee productivity.
In 2020, the Integrated Benefits Institute (IBI) said that “Illness-related lost productivity costs employers $575 billion last year.” These costs include workers’ compensation, paid sick time, disability, and family and medical leave benefits, all stemming from employees taking time off from work for illness-related reasons.
Telemedicine makes it easier for employees to access health care and encourages them to seek treatment faster — potentially resulting in fewer days missed from work.
5. Telemedicine can give you a competitive advantage.
Many studies show that job seekers and employees rank health insurance as the most desirable workplace benefit. From recruiting and retention standpoints, this makes group health insurance a must for employers looking to edge out the competition. Employers can strengthen their competitive position even more by incorporating telemedicine in their group health insurance plan.
Telemedicine is not a fad. Business leaders widely agree that it’s here to stay, and its adoption among employers is expected to keep growing. But to be successful as an employee benefit, the telemedicine program must be skillfully integrated into the group health plan and effectively communicated to employees.