Telemedicine is having a moment in a big way, and for good reason: The ability to receive 24/7 phone- or video-based medical support offers a more affordable and flexible approach to health care — one that doesn’t require driving to and from appointments or searching ad nauseam for the right in-network provider.
Employers have caught on. In a 2018 survey, 96 percent of large employers said they planned to offer virtual medicine as part of their 2019 health benefits packages. But for all the enthusiasm of business leaders, employees themselves are slow to join the movement: The vast majority of employers see telehealth engagement rates below 8 percent. It doesn’t have to stay that way, though.
The Advantages of Telemedicine
Given the ample upsides of telehealth services, it can boggle the mind to think of so few people using them. For example, telemedicine offers:
- Cost savings. Virtual appointments cost an average of about $100 less per visit than a face-to-face appointment.
- Expanded access. Those in underserved communities — such as rural regions or areas without many specialists — can get remote expertise with a tap on their phone.
- Convenience. Virtual health is kind of like having a doctor in your pocket at all times, whether you’re experiencing a sinus infection on vacation or you’re up at all hours of the night with a sick child.
Still, many employees feel cautious. Some may distrust the credentials of a practitioner available over the phone, while others might be wary of getting an incorrect diagnosis without an in-person exam.
These concerns aren’t surprising — and they’re the reason why telehealth should complement, not replace, a primary care provider. Having a face-to-face rapport with a doctor is important for managing long-term health goals and chronic conditions, but many situations involving minor illnesses and mental health issues do benefit from virtual health, like these scenarios outlined by LiveHealth Online doctors:
- If you or family members are sick on a weekday and can’t get an appointment with the family doctor, a telemedicine doctor can tell you whether going to school or work is a good idea.
- If you’re on vacation and forget to pack your medication or someone gets an unexpected minor illness, an online appointment gives you a quick path to the prescription you need.
- If you’re feeling particularly stressed, anxious or are otherwise in need of psychological or psychiatric assistance, you can find support quickly.
How to Get Employees Engaged
So, how can you communicate the value of telehealth to employees in a way that will motivate them to actually use it? Try these tips to get started:
- Create laminated wallet cards with the telehealth website so employees can keep the information with them at all times.
- Schedule info sessions or “lunch and learn” events at the office to explore the cost savings and convenience of virtual visits.
- Designate a special telehealth space that employees can book during the workday. Some companies can purchase telehealth kiosks that come complete with a video screen, phone and, if possible, medical equipment that enables remote monitoring, such as blood pressure cuffs.
- Provide ample communication around the office and in digital channels, such as emails, mailed postcards, elevator posters and break room refrigerator magnets. Start with the basics, such as a “What Is Telemedicine?” overview. Dive into the specific benefits in subsequent communications.
- Make communications seasonal — emphasize telehealth offerings during flu, summer vacation or allergy season.
- Reinforce the professional expertise and credentials of the telehealth practitioners.
- Make sure employees understand when not to use telehealth, such as for emergencies, injuries or suspected chronic illnesses.
Some employees may not have access to a smartphone or high-speed internet to take part in virtual health visits. This is where telehealth spaces — which give employees an opportunity to use company-provided equipment — can make care access more equitable for all. You’ll also want to ensure plans offer bilingual providers, such as LiveHealth Online’s Cuidado Médico support.
This is telemedicine’s chance to shine — help your employees take advantage of the affordability, flexibility and convenience that comes with it.
Stay up to date on the latest health care regulations and trends for your small business: Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.