Telemedicine is one of the most impactful services to hit the employee health landscape in quite some time. There are no gimmicks or fancy ROI tricks during the sales process. It’s simple: if employees use telemedicine, medical costs decrease.
In fact, the math is very black and white; it costs much less for an employee virtual health visit than for an in-person physician visit. There are no commutes, waiting rooms, grumpy front-desk staff, or billing associates trying to squeeze every last drop from insurance carriers. According to Healthcare IT News, companies like Tallahassee Memorial Hospital regularly save upwards of $1 million per year in cost avoidance. That’s a lot of coin.
The fact is, when Telemedicine is working, it’s really working. It’s fast, efficient, and economically advantageous. But… it usually isn’t working. In fact, it’s rarely ever working.
Telemedicine isn’t Working Well or At All
According to a published report by Peterson-Kaiser in late 2018 analyzing 20 million people, “Among people with at least 6 months of large employer coverage and at least one outpatient claim in 2016, just 0.51% of enrollees had a telemedicine outpatient visit” That’s half a percent.
One might infer the reason for low utilization is due to low telemedicine adoption rates. Of course, if only a few companies have telemedicine, it surely must be an issue with access. However, statistics paint the opposite picture. In 2018, Mercer’s National Survey showed a 71% telemedicine adoption rate for employers with at least 500 employees. Though Mercer’s survey revealed a higher utilization rate (7%) than Kaisers analysis (.51%), no one is celebrating sub 10% utilization.
And things get even more interesting as you dig. According to Mercer’s survey, the following was found regarding co-pays and usage:
· Median telemedicine co-pay rate of $15 = ±10% engagement
· Median telemedicine co-pay rate of $30 = ± 6% engagement
The financial contribution at the company level varies immensely, yet telemedicine engagement remains low. Companies are having a very hard time incentivizing telemedicine usage by manipulating employee co-payments. We’d like to believe that financial wizardry is enough to move the needle, but employees aren’t budging. The bottom line is whether or not employees pay a larger co-pay or not, dismal engagement remains a problem.
Is Telemedicine the New “Corporate Wellness”
We are going to let you in on a little secret: corporate wellness program utilization rate is equally bad (±8%). To be fair, corporate wellness offerings are all over the board. From advanced software health management to belly dancing, you’ll find it in corporate wellness. But the fact remains that companies typically terminate a specific corporate wellness strategy when it fails to improve their employee health metrics and/or fails to meet ROI expectations (almost 100% of the time). This is exactly the reason why companies switch out corporate wellness vendors every two to three years.
Telemedicine is also reminiscent of Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Studies show that EAP’s produce an ROI of $3-$10 for every $1 invested (if only your 401k returned that kind of ROI). EAP is an a fantastic offering with huge implications for employee wellbeing and performance. Yet, according to the National Business Group on Health, the average EAP utilization rate is 8%. Which is also the same rate as Corporate Wellness and roughly the same as telemedicine or slightly better—not good.
Many companies right now provide the trifecta offering of Telemedicine, Wellness, and EAP and experience a collective engagement of ± 8%. These services aren’t inexpensive to plan for either. For larger companies with an engagement staff, services like these can take months to roll out. Interestingly, the large majority of savvy business owners would never move towards a business initiative with a 92% failure rate—at least not knowingly (our opinion of course).
But Telemedicine isn’t corporate wellness and it isn’t EAP. It shouldn’t suffer the same fate. It’s a remarkable offering that demands our respect. It can provide ROI while delivering a first-class employee service. Telemedicine is fantastically complicated to manage and execute well, which is why there are far fewer vendor options compared to general wellness offerings. Employers must work to improve telemedicine utilization rates to reap the financial benefits awaiting them.
The Solution is Obvious
If you’ve made it this far, you know that Telemedicine is amazing and underutilized. It’s a prized racehorse that never moves past the starting blocks. We know that low utilization isn’t for the following reasons:
Which brings us to the glaring issue.
That’s right, employees lack telemedicine awareness. Employees have no clue what telemedicine offers them or how to use it in the first place. Communication is typically poor on all sides which perpetuates the status quo.
Telemedicine is a new concept and has only gained traction the last few years. It’s not a household name yet. In fact, the industry isn’t always sure if it’s tele-health, telemedicine, or virtual care. We’ve seen Telemedicine confusion from multiple angles and it’s never pretty.
We won’t get into the “carrier Telemedicine isn’t free” debate, but we will say they often have little incentive or the technological chops to encourage your employees to utilize telemedicine. There might be a mention in a monthly newsletter somewhere and there is usually a PDF resource page given to you to post flyers and tear off number tabs in the breakroom. That definitely doesn’t sound like it’s going to work well at all. No one is looking at that sheet in the breakroom; especially when Brenda is bringing chocolate cake for Mother’s Day per her fluorescent orange flyer covering telemedicine.
Not to mention, according to FS Health, carrier telemedicine is usually hovering around 1%. It’s lower than employer sponsored telemedicine, vendor telemedicine, and on-site telemedicine services. To the carrier, it’s often just another claim (but that’s a topic for another day).
The majority of employees when asked about Telemedicine will have the following responses:
· I have telemedicine?
· How much does it cost?
· What is telemedicine?
· When did I sign up?
· How do I sign up?
· Can my family use it?
In most cases, employees aren’t communicated with or educated on telemedicine. The majority of the telemedicine communication comes around open-enrollment. That’s also the same time they are receiving information on major medical, dental, life insurance, disability, EAP, 401k, a new wellness vendor, pet insurance, PTO updates, and a new employee handbook. And let’s not forget this is also around the time of employee performance reviews and end of year quota rushes.
It’s probably not the best time to communicate telemedicine. And it shouldn’t be last the time.
We get it, employee communication is really hard. And there is a 99% chance that your core business is something other than advanced employee communication. Communicating with employees often requires a team, email scripts, server concerns, HIPAA requirements, disclaimers, and expensive technology. And then you have to staff someone to do the communication. There’s also a good chance there isn’t anyone monitoring Telemedicine engagement each month which means there is also no one managing it. In a sense, it’s just there waiting to be used.
We bet if you could offer Telemedicine with an advanced communication engine that delivered communication automatically through different mediums without needing to hire a single person to manage it— it would be a game-changer.
It’s just a hunch.
We aren’t in the business of throwing shade, so we’ll stick to the facts. There are a ton of awesome Telemedicine vendors out there. Some look like identical copies of each other, but there are plenty that bring something unique to the table. One of those unique things, in most cases, isn’t employee communication.
And that’s okay because it’s not why they built their agency. Communication often falls under the responsibility of the employer. “You know your employees better than us.” And while that might be true, communication is still an issue. Employees still need to know where and how to utilize telemedicine.
Fixing the Problem
Telemedicine is too valuable to sit on the shelf and collect dust. It’s an amazing offering that helps decrease claim costs, improve employee health, reduce absenteeism, and creates an employer-competitive atmosphere.
The simple fix is great communication.
Employees need to be communicated with early and often. The days of flyers, pamphlets, and stapled benefit packets educating your employees are over. They don’t want more paper. They want to be communicated with when it matters most and save a tree while their at it.
Think about it like this: in the age of social media, google, amazon, and streaming media, we are constantly being nudged, suggested, and encouraged to consume information. And the timing is often perfect because it’s spread out over time based on our actions. Benefit education should act the same way. We need to take the playbook from media giants and use it to increase engagement.
Cast a Wide Net
Employees have email, text, mobile applications, and notification potential. If you aren’t reaching them through multiple mediums, you’ve already lost the battle.
Frequency is King
If you are sending out all your information during open enrollment and waiting for action—you’ll be waiting a long time—like Tom Hanks waiting with Wilson for a rescue boat—long time.
Education Above All
Sending out communication is great. And sending out communication that encourages action through education is better. If employees don’t know what Telemedicine is, then nudging them to pick up the phone and use it won’t have much impact. An educated population is an active population.
We’ve seen companies that have 24 benefit offerings with 12 different mobile applications, 10 different web applications, across 8 differing benefit categories. It’s improbable to expect them to become highly engaged when they’re swimming in technology. Many Telemedicine vendors are offering a single app with a single feature (Telemedicine) which only adds to the pile of technology.
Telemedicine should bring more to the table if it’s going to occupy space on your phone. A great telemedicine solution should consolidate technologies and accomplish multiple goals with one application through a centralized hub.