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Telehealth: Just What The Doctor Ordered

It’s Sunday night and you are not feeling well. Deep down you know that all you really need is a doctor to write you a prescription for an antibiotic that will have you back to normal in no time. So, what are your options? A trip to the ER is going to take forever, potentially expose you to infectious disease, and cost you $900 under your high deductible health plan (HDHP). No thanks! Finding a walk-in clinic or trying to get in touch with your doctor on a Sunday night would be the better option, but even that is too much of a hassle with this splitting headache. Isn’t there a fast, cheap and convenient way to get the prescription you need? Fortunately, there is and the solution is telehealth!

You may be asking yourself, what is telehealth? Telehealth is the delivery of health care related services through telecommunications and information technology. Simply said, it’s talking to a licensed provider on the phone or through a video conference call to treat common and routine conditions from the comfort and convenience of your home.

So many people can benefit from a telehealth program. Maybe you can relate to the situation above, maybe you’ve had to deal with a screaming child in the middle of the night or maybe, like me a few months ago, you didn’t feel well and wondered if you were bringing the next wave of illness into the workplace. In my experience, it was a Sunday and I knew all I had was a basic cold, but I really wondered if I was contagious.I had been looking for an opportunity to test-drive this new telehealth benefit that we recently rolled out. I also think there was a part of me that was looking for an excuse to get out of that Monday meeting!

My experience with telehealth was simple. I called the vendor our company selected, which happened to be MyIdealDoctor, and spoke to a nurse who collected my basic medical history for about 10 minutes. Then, I waited about 20 minutes for a call-back from a doctor to review my case. After a 5 or 10 minute conversation with the doctor about my symptoms, I was done. Ultimately I didn’t need a prescription; just lots of liquids and rest, but if I had, the doctor would have called in a prescription to the pharmacy down the road and I would have been all set. Not only was my experience easy, fast and convenient, the best part was that the consultation only cost me $20 which I was able to fund tax-free from my health savings account (HSA).

I believe a telehealth benefit should be part of a broader integrated benefits strategy. Just like critical illness and accident plans can dovetail with HDHPs, a telehealth benefit can merge nicely with any type of benefit plan; especially HDHPs where the members are more engaged and looking for low-cost ways to access care.

Generally, there are two ways a group can roll-out a telehealth benefit. They can purchase a product from a standalone vendor or add the benefit through an integrated carrier option. Purchasing a standalone product allows an employer to provide a benefit to all employees, regardless of participation in the medical plan. An integrated carrier option may be ideal for employees because the cost of the service runs through the insurance plan as a claim, however only those that participate in the medical plan can access the benefit.

There are several benefits to implementing a telehealth benefit including:

  1. Convenient access to care from anywhere by leveraging technology
  2. Alternative access to care. The demand for primary care physicians (PCPs) is increasing as they retire and more Americans have access to coverage as a result of the ACA
  3. Low cost to members and low cost to employers who may save claim dollars by reduced emergency room and doctor visits

In my opinion, a telehealth benefit provides a single solution to the five things that matter most to employers. It provides a compliant, low-cost option that may be a better benefit, in certain situations, to help keep employees healthy by leveraging technology to reduce headaches. A quick call or video chat to a licensed physician may just be what the doctor ordered!