Telehealth plans are one of the hottest developments in the health care industry.
On vacation and can't get to your specialist? Now you can flip open your laptop for a face-to-face consult — for less than an in-person visit. Who wouldn't love that? It sounds great, so keep these four things in mind as you develop your plan:
1. Telehealth Systems Can Improve Plan Options and Members' Lives
Thanks to the internet and rapidly developing technologies, this new frontier in health care delivery emerged as a comprehensive set of remote tech options to treat and educate patients. Telemedicine fits seamlessly into plan offerings because it doesn't alter the nature of the patient-provider relationship, but rather enhances it where time and distance can be a limiting factor. However, the burden is on benefits administrators to educate members on the time- and cost-saving benefits of a robust telehealth system. According to the American Telemedicine Association, that system includes telemedicine visits, remote monitoring, digital applications or nursing call centers. These increased options can benefit members who work on multiple sites. Televisits can be a real game changer, allowing members to check in with providers no matter their physical location.
The National Business Group anticipates that telemedicine will have almost 100 percent market penetration by 2019. But that widespread availability won't have much impact if members are unaware of the option or unsure how the process works. According to the Chicago Tribune, only 3 percent of people use telemedicine services when it's offered. So how will the fund ensure members actually sign up for the program?
2. Some Best Practices for Ensuring High Member Usage
Some best practices for ensuring higher member usage include in-house marketing and education to increase member buy-in to the program. As members opt to use televisits for less acute care, the fund will see reduced time away from work and increased satisfaction with the plan.
As Ernst & Young discussed, there are additional approaches to improving member adoption, such as implementing a digital media outreach plan and using a real-time video physician consult — a synchronous visit — or utilizing the transfer of stored patient data such as test results or x-rays — or asynchronous — engagement plans, which can help the fund advance its strategic goals. Additionally, funds can increase member awareness of these options via email outreach, health fairs and posters at work sites.
3. What Level of Usage Gives the Best ROI?
A recent Willis Towers Watson study revealed providers are embracing this new delivery method, with 67 percent offering telemedicine services to patients. By next year, the projected use is expected to rise to 90 percent. This higher level of participation will also show increased savings to the fund.
As noted by Politico, by investing in a telemedicine plan, the fund could expect a 3 percent to 4 percent return by using vendors to service members. Comparing those potential savings in reimbursement and reduced member sick leave ensures a stronger bottom line.
4. Will Members and Providers Receive Reimbursement for Telehealth Consultations?
While the Wall Street Journal noted that benefits administrators have been eager to cover virtual urgent care visits, insurers were less willing to pay for telemedicine when doctors consult remotely with existing patients. But as members seek more convenience in their health care, insurers can't remain competitive in the marketplace without offering telemedicine options.
Long-term cost savings will emerge as more private plans cover televisits. By keeping these four points in mind, the fund can reduce the likelihood of poor patient outcomes while implementing cost-control measures to conserve financial resources.
Tracey Lewis, journalist and author focuses primarily on B2B health care, financial services and other internal corporate communications. Author of a best-selling pop-culture book published by Random House Books, and a trained oral historian, Tracey also enjoys delving into music, arts and film content. Skilled in SEO optimization and digital storytelling, she knows how to collaborate with communications, policy, research, legal and designer teams to create and execute cohesive content strategies.