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Aug. 23 — If you had a sore throat, would you conduct an online visit with a doctor? Your employer hopes you would.
Many large employers are offering a telehealth, also called telemedicine, component in their benefits package—medical care by physicians or other health-care professionals provided over an Internet or phone-video system—and the number is projected to grow. According to a recent study from the National Business Group on Health, 90 percent of large employers will offer telehealth services in 2017 and 97 percent will offer them by 2019.
“We’re seeing more and more employers who are adding telemedicine benefits, and the primary reason is that it’s an opportunity to decrease costs in terms of both health-care costs and lost productivity from having sick employees,” attorney Lisa Schmitz Mazur, partner with McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 22. Mazur has a general health-care practice that focuses on representing hospitals and health systems.
Telemedicine “encounters” can cost about $45, while trips to the emergency room or a primary care physician can cost a lot more, Mazur said.
“It’s not only cheaper care, but you also have employees who have to take off of work to sit in a doctor’s office to wait for their appointment and that results in lost productivity,” she said.
More employers are offering a telehealth benefit for employees to give them better access to health care in a convenient environment, Allison Wils, director of health policy with the ERISA Industry Committee, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 16.
“If you’re at home and you have to be there and something comes up, using telehealth could be really convenient,” Wils said.
Being able to access a doctor online can also benefit workforces that may not have many medical care options in their area, she said.
Mazur agreed that telehealth increases access for workers, especially those who can’t easily leave their job sites for a doctor’s visit. She said she’s even seen some employers set up rooms for employees to conduct telehealth appointments.
Offering telehealth services to employees has become commonplace, especially for large employers, Steve Wojcik, vice president of public policy at the National Business Group on Health, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 22.
The next challenge will be convincing employees to use the resource, he said.
That’s because employee utilization of the benefit is pretty low, Mazur said. “Employers are offering it, but employees aren’t using it.”
That doesn’t mean it won’t catch on, but employers should reach out to employees to acquaint them with the benefit by making the understanding of it as easy and clear as possible, Mazur said. Posting signs in bathrooms and having information on the back of health-care cards are also good ways to communicate the option to employees, she said.
Wojcik thinks that the more employees use the benefit, the more comfortable they will be with it.
“It’s still relatively new, so I think it will take a while” to catch on, he said.
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