Nearly every large U.S. company will offer telehealth services as part of their benefit packages in the next six years, according to a survey released recently by the National Business Group on Health.

While uncertainties remain about how telehealth affects employer health-care costs, many large companies offer their employees access to telehealth as part of their “soft benefits,” Allie Wils, director of health policy for the ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC), which advocates for large companies on benefits issues, told me. Soft benefits are related to employee satisfaction and recruitment, which are difficult to measure, she said.

“Employees want access to care when and where they need it and telehealth can enable that,” Wils said. “Cost-effectiveness is important but offering benefits people care about is important, too.”

Nadia de la Houssaye, a partner in the Lafayette, La., office of the law firm Jones Walker LLP, told me the soft benefits are driving employers to offering their employees access to telehealth services. But, she said there are hard benefits such as preventing unnecessary and expensive emergency room visits and documenting injuries to employees.

In 2017, 90 percent of large employers will offer their employees access to telehealth services — broadly defined as a remote connection with a health-care provider, according to the NBGH's annual survey of employers. By 2020, the group expects 97 percent of large employers will offer their employees access to telehealth services.

The availability of telehealth to employees of large companies — organizations with at least 5,000 employees — has “skyrocketed” in the past five years, according to the survey. In 2012, just 7 percent of employers offered access to telehealth services.

The increase in employers offering telehealth benefits is largely driven by an increase in the number of insurers offering access to telehealth services, the NBGH survey found. Still, nearly a third of large employers in 2016 are contracting directly with a telehealth vendor to offer the service to their employees, according to the survey.

Stay on top of new developments in health law and regulation with a free trial to the Health Law Resource CenterLearn more about Bloomberg Law and sign up for a free trial.