Speakers Tout Advantages of Telemedicine, Offer Employer Plan Implementation Advice

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By Caryn Freeman

Nov. 19 — Telemedicine—interactive medical services delivered remotely via technology such as cell phones and laptops—improves access to health care, redirects non-urgent care away from higher cost venues and improves employee productivity by reducing time away from work at doctor visits, Allan Khoury, senior health management consultant with Towers Watson in New York, said in a Nov. 18 Bloomberg BNA webinar.

In the webinar, “The Positioning of Telemedicine in Your Health Care Delivery System,” Khoury said that 15 percent of doctor's office visits, 15 percent of all emergency room visits and 37 percent of all urgent care visits treat the type of conditions that can be cared for with telemedicine.

“Even now, with telemedicine in its limited capacity, there is a potential $6 billion in employer savings if all of those divertible visits were diverted to telemedicine. So the potential is really significant, and that number is only going to grow,” Khoury said.

Khoury added that companies that might benefit most from implementing a telemedicine strategy are employers with dispersed workforces. “It is a way of offering a benefit to employees independent of where they are,” he said. “For employers with mobile workforces and employees who are on the road all the time this seems to be a very good way for them to access health care.”

Expanding Applications

Mary Modahl, chief marketing officer for American Well, a telehealth services company, said an emergent focus in telehealth has been integrating mobile applications that enable a doctor, during a telemedicine visit, to see a patient's health information from multiple electronic devices.

She said that currently, a lot of what is treated via telemedicine are common minor urgent care conditions like sinusitis, respiratory infections, allergies, influenza and bronchitis. Modahl said she believes “there is broad applicability over time in a variety of chronic conditions, particularly as we are increasingly able to track biometric data and put that in front of the doctor at the time of the visit.”

Benefit Design

According to Modahl, employers should make sure “benefits are aligned with employer population demographics and fit with existing health care program initiatives.”

Modahl said that accurately forecasting employee utilization and return on investment requires “ongoing analytics to understand where opportunity for optimal use for telemedicine exists and agreement on ROI targets.” She also urged employers to consider the percentage of members in high deductible health plans and how that will impact ROI.

Modahl said employers and benefits specialists should consider the following when developing a telemedicine strategy:

• Can the patient select the physician he or she is going to see, or is the physician assigned by the telemedicine broker?

• What percentage of consults are done by phone versus by video? There is increasing regulatory scrutiny of visits that are telephone-only, Modahl said. The federation of state medical boards has said that phone-only treatment does not constitute good medical care.

•  Does the doctor have enough information to treat patients appropriately? Make sure the plan isn’t just a “dial-up-and-get-whatever-prescription-you-want kind of service,” Modahl said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Caryn Freeman in Washington at cfreeman@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com


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