As employees continue to explore their health care treatment options, and the expenses that correlate, telemedicine may provide a more convenient, cost-saving option compared to traditional office visits.
What’s more, telemedicine removes some of the traditional barriers to health care, such as distance, mobility, and time constraints, which could hinder some employees from seeking information and ultimately treatment.
For remote workers, telemedicine may be an especially appealing option as a trip to the doctor may be logistically challenging. To aid in your understanding of this growing health care tool, the following is a primer on telemedicine and what it offers.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine connects patients to health care providers via videoconferencing, remote monitoring, and wireless communications. It allows employees to seek information specific to their health care needs without taking time to travel to a provider. Telemedicine can increase the conversation between patients and their providers for routine care, improving health awareness, saving all of the costs associated with attending an in-person appointment.
For employees with a high deductible health plan, telemedicine is often a less expensive option than traditional health care providers. In many cases, telemedicine is available at a flat fee, oftentimes published in advance so consumers can immediately do a value analysis. And since employees can use their health savings accounts (HSAs) to pay for this service, this upfront knowledge of costs can help them confidently manage the costs associated with their health care journey. And with data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) stating that 66% of HSA account holders withdrew funds in 2017, employees will appreciate, and possibly consider, other health care delivery models so they can maximize their HSA dollars.
There are three different type of telemedicine that employees may utilize.
1. Real-time telemedicine
Real-time telemedicine allows employees to connect with their doctors anytime, anywhere. This includes any two-way communication, including video conferencing and phone consultations.
Real-time telemedicine usually involves a flat fee and can be a less expensive option for common health concerns like a sinus infection or pink eye. Often times, if the telemedicine provider cannot provide treatment for the condition, there is no charge.
2. Remote patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring allows healthcare providers to monitor a patients’ health from afar, typically while the patient is at their home. Remote patient monitoring is typically used for patients with chronic conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. The patient continues to monitor their own condition and can transmit basic medical data to their providers automatically using digital equipment.
Remote patient monitoring allows doctors to monitor levels and keep an eye out for any changes in condition, which when addressed immediately, can prevent health conditions from worsening, resulting in expensive care plans.
3. "Store and forward"
“Store and Forward” practices are used for patients and doctors to share test results and other information via secure portals. This type of telemedicine is most often utilized by primary caregivers and specialists with whom they may need to consult. This allows doctors to collaborate more quickly and does not require additional travel time, or expenses, for the patient.
Additional benefits and notes
As employees start or continue to leverage telemedicine, it is important to remind them that their health care provider often has a nurses’ line that can be used for health questions. Often, they can give insights into whether telemedicine can be an option or if an in-person visit might be required. Taking the step to call the nurses line can often save employees time and money associated with unnecessary office visits.
A cautionary note: If you are offering subsidized telemedicine services to employees with an HSA, you must make sure that their program is HSA compatible. Employees can lose HSA eligibility for a service if the employee receives that service at a cost under the fair market value before they reach their deductible. For instance, if you offer three free telemedicine sessions with a particular provider, employees cannot use that same provider for additional visits and pay for the service with their HSA because the first services were received at a reduced rate.
Telemedicine might not be the right option for everyone or every situation, but when leveraged for information related to routine care, it can be a more convenient and affordable option. Additionally, telemedicine can empower employees to receive care at a convenient time while maximizing their HSAs.