April 19, 2024

Health care is constantly evolving, and telehealth is at the forefront of this change. It offers a convenient and often more affordable way to access medical services remotely. Let’s demystify telehealth for both employers and employees and explore its benefits and limitations.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth, also known as telemedicine, allows you to connect with a licensed health care provider remotely using a smartphone, computer or tablet. This eliminates the need for in-person visits, offering 24/7 access to care from wherever you are. Telehealth offers a range of services, including consultations, diagnoses and treatment for a range of non-emergency conditions.

Benefits of Telehealth for Employers and Employees

There are several advantages to using telehealth over a traditional in-office visit — making it a win-win for employers and employees:

Convenience

Telehealth provides unmatched convenience. Employees can schedule appointments at their own pace, eliminating the need to take time off work for commutes and waiting rooms. For employers, this translates to increased productivity and overall employee satisfaction.

Reduced Cost

Telehealth visits are generally less expensive than traditional in-person appointments. Additionally, by addressing minor issues promptly, telehealth can help prevent unnecessary ER visits, leading to significant cost savings for both employers and employees with health insurance plans. Studies show that roughly 25% of ER visits can be effectively managed through virtual consultations.

The cost of telehealth varies depending on your benefits package, but it commonly ranges from $0 to $60 when covered by insurance. This can save both employees and employers a lot of cash — an average urgent care visit costs $190 and ER visits sit around $1,700.

Improved Access to Care

Telehealth removes geographical barriers to care. This is particularly beneficial for employees in remote or rural locations, as well as those with limited transportation options. It also caters to individuals with busy schedules or those who may struggle to leave work due to childcare responsibilities.

Improved Health Outcomes

By offering convenient access to care, telehealth encourages employees to address health concerns early on. This can lead to earlier diagnoses, better treatment adherence and ultimately, improved overall health outcomes for the workforce.

Potential Challenges of Telehealth

While telehealth offers significant advantages, there are some limitations to consider.

Technology Access

Not everyone has access to the necessary technology, or a reliable internet connection required for virtual consultations. This could create a disparity in access, especially for older demographics or those in lower socio-economic brackets.

Privacy Concerns

Utilizing telehealth involves electronic communication, which raises privacy concerns for some people. Data breaches and cyberattacks are real threats, and ensuring patient information security is crucial.

Reduced Personal Interaction

Telehealth consultations may lack the personal touch of an in-person visit. Building rapport and maintaining a strong doctor-patient relationship might be more challenging in a virtual setting.

Some people may find it challenging to confide in a provider they have no relationship with regarding their personal medical issues on the phone or video, which can impact their quality of care.

Limited Physical Examinations

Certain medical conditions necessitate a physical examination for proper diagnosis and treatment. Telehealth consultations might not be suitable for these situations.

When is Telehealth a Good Option?

While telehealth is a fantastic chose for addressing a wide range of non-emergency conditions, there are times patients should elect for an in-person visit, urgent care trip or even stop at the emergency room. Let’s break down some basic guidelines on when (and when not) to choose this form of care.

Telehealth is good for:

  • Flu/Fever
  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Allergies
  • Sinus Infections
  • Bronchitis
  • Pink Eye
  • Sore Throat
  • Rashes
  • Stomachaches
  • Colds and Coughs

Telehealth is not good for:

  • Sprains
  • Broken Bones
  • Injuries requiring bandaging or X-rays
  • Management of chronic health conditions
  • Complex health issues like cancer
  • International consultations

Moving Forward with Telehealth

Telehealth is a valuable tool that can improve health care access and affordability for both employers and employees. Employers should consider how to leverage telemedicine to improve outcomes for their plan members and remember — communicate. Plan members should be informed about these options and encouraged to explore how telemedicine can meet their needs.

 

One final note, telemedicine is best used alongside traditional in-person care for optimal health outcomes. It does not replace the need for a primary care provider.