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Promote Telehealth Services to Improve Care for Union Members

By Julia M. Passwater, J.D. | May 22, 2019

Between work, family and school obligations, your members' busy schedules don't always leave them the time or flexibility to get to a doctor's office for treatment. Fortunately, telehealth services — sometimes also called telemedicine services — can help union members access health care without sacrificing other important responsibilities.

Telemedicine Brings Convenience and Savings to Members' Care

According to the New York Times, only about 17 percent of a patient's visit to the doctor's office is spent actually seeing the doctor. Patients spend the other 83 percent traveling to the office or sitting in a waiting room. Telehealth services offer union members new ways of connecting to health care services without the extra steps. With telemedicine, members have virtual options to make and keep appointments, meaning they don't have to miss as much work — or any work at all — in order to receive treatment.

 Telehealth services are also cost-effective for both individual patients and the health care system as a whole. In 2016, the Center for Telehealth and E-Health Law estimated that the use of telehealth resources and apps for patients seeking treatment for cardiac rehabilitation, pulmonary rehabilitation, asthma, diabetes and diabetes prevention could save the U.S. health care system $7 billion per year. Members save on an individual level, too. The American Journal of Managed Care reports that the average cost of an in-person visit is $176, while virtual visits usually only cost about $40 to $50.

Workers in industries with a strong union presence receive perhaps the most value from having access to telemedicine options as part of their health plans. For example, construction workers who work on multiple sites and transportation workers who often travel long distances can continue to have virtual visits no matter how far away they are from their primary care physicians. Similarly, teachers who would normally need to make arrangements for substitute coverage in order to take time off of work can arrange for virtual visits during breaks in the workday instead.

The 3 Most Popular Types of Health Counseling Available With Telemedicine

Not all telemedicine options look the same; here are three of the most widely used. 

  1.  Videoconferencing. This is the best-known type of telemedicine benefit. Videoconferencing entails a live, two-way video between a health care provider and their patient. This option minimizes time away from work for members and brings health care services to rural areas where health care options may be fewer.
  2.  Mobile health. Mobile health — or mHealth — uses devices such as smartphones, tablets and apps to support members' continued health care between doctors' appointments. Medical and health apps can monitor a patient's blood sugar, blood pressure, reproductive cycle and more to support healthier lifestyle behaviors. Some mobile health options can even integrate with patients' medical records to monitor and record health statistics in real time.
  3.  Remote patient monitoring. With remote patient monitoring (RPM), a member's health information is collected in one location so it can be sent electronically to a doctor for analysis. RPM is particularly useful for people with ongoing or chronic conditions that require regular oversight. For example, members with certain heart conditions might have their heart rate and other vital statistics monitored remotely for signs of distress.

Despite all of the options for connecting remotely with health care providers, sometimes face-to-face health care visits are still the best choice. Many complex medical issues require an in-person examination, and some sensitive communications should probably happen in person. But for most common concerns, telehealth benefits can save members time and money while they receive quality care.

Julia Passwater is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Passwater earned a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Indiana University Bloomington, and she earned a Juris Doctor degree from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. After earning her law degree, Passwater spent over a decade enforcing federal employment laws for the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Today, Passwater writes about topics such as politics, government, employment law and work in the 21st century.