Telehealth usage continues to grow across employee demographics. A survey from the investment firm Rock Health found 80% of respondents have used telemedicine at least once.
The increasing popularity of telemedicine is nearly universal. Individuals 55 and older had the most significant year-over-year jump among age groups, with 76% using telehealth (a 12% increase). From a geographic perspective, 73% of rural patients used telehealth (a 13% increase). Even 50% of uninsured individuals used telehealth (a 13% increase).
Higher adoption rates allow telemedicine to deliver on its promises. Potential benefits include:
- Expanding the reach of health care providers, especially among rural populations and employees who have delayed care due to scheduling conflicts or inconvenient appointment times
- Improving access through lower out-of-pocket costs and anytime, anywhere availability
- Connecting more individuals to mental health providers
- Reducing barriers to care, such as doctor shortages, travel times and lack of diversity in health care providers
How individuals are using telehealth
Understanding telemedicine access and utilization is the first step. Next, examine how employees are using telemedicine. This data can help you maximize your offerings.
For example, review the mix of video and nonvideo usage. Telemedicine often conjures images of video calls. But Rock Health found that people utilized audio-only and asynchronous telehealth more often than video chats. Phone calls, emails and text messages ranked above video communications.
Video is helpful for discussions between doctors and patients, demonstrations of physical movements or ailments, and the delivery of delicate information. But if most of your employees use nonvideo communications, it pays to promote call, text and email functionality in your benefit offerings. Nonvideo telehealth can increase provider availability, improve response times and reach people in areas without reliable high-speed internet.
In addition to understanding employees’ desired delivery formats, knowing how they want to use telemedicine is essential. In the Rock Health survey, more than 60% of respondents preferred telemedicine for prescription refills, and 51% favored it for minor ailments.
Ways to improve telehealth benefits
As with all health care providers, telemedicine can vary in care, quality and continuity. Look for telemedicine options that provide:
- Broad access
- Human points of contact
- Coordinated care
To increase access, your telemedicine provider should offer various scheduling options. Appointments should fit into your employees’ lives, allowing them to schedule visits:
- During mornings, days or evenings
- Across geographic regions
- With short wait times
- With on-time providers
- With diverse providers who understand their medical needs and life experiences
Human points of contact
Though technology enables telemedicine, the human touch is what drives it. Telehealth providers must spend time with patients and provide thoughtful input into care and solutions.
These personal connections can:
- Enhance care continuity and medication adherence, leading to better health outcomes and lower risk for chronic health conditions
- Encourage employees to use telemedicine instead of more costly urgent care or emergency room visits
- Reach employees who have avoided medical care for lack of trust
Addressing the trust gap between in-person visits and telehealth services is crucial to increasing utilization. Confidentiality and the sharing of health data remain top concerns. In the Rock Health survey, 77% of respondents trusted in-person doctors and health care providers. This percentage ranked much higher than trust in digital health apps (28%), websites (16%) and social media groups (11%).
Telemedicine should also incorporate the coordinated care common among in-person health care providers. Care coordination includes:
- Referring patients to in-person clinics for specialty care, vaccinations, lab work and other health services
- Connecting patients to mental health counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists
- Following up through email, text or phone calls to ensure adherence to medication and reassess care, if necessary
Examine your offerings
An improved telehealth experience for employees also benefits your organization. Increased access and utilization can improve health outcomes and lower plan costs.
For more information on telemedicine, talk with your insurance broker or benefits adviser. If you currently provide telemedicine offerings, they can help you analyze your data and employee needs to maximize your benefits. If you’re exploring new options, they can help you examine providers, platforms and other critical components of a telemedicine strategy.