By Kate Russell

The strains on healthcare and economic systems presented by the global pandemic remain top of mind, especially for small businesses.

As consumers and employees remain at home, small businesses must adapt to support their employees’ and their financial wellness. Telemedicine benefits present a resource for small businesses to leverage to address the unique concerns of the day.

Telemedicine allows healthcare providers to deliver services, both physical and psychological, to patients in remote locations through video conferencing and texting services.

Execute on the following steps to implement telemedicine benefits into your small business’s benefits package.

1. Integrate Telemedicine Options Into Employee Healthcare Plans

Small businesses that offer telemedicine benefits to employees activate cost-savings for themselves and their employees.

Employee engagement in telemedicine remains low despite the benefits businesses and employees can earn from reduced costs for care and improved accessibility to speciality and routine services.

Small businesses can choose from a range of telehealth services to offer employees:

  1. Teleconsultation: Patients and physicians communicate virtually for a consultation.
  2. Telediagnosis: Using wearable technology, an employee’s vitals and health data is transferred to a healthcare professional who diagnoses the individual remotely.
  3. Telepharmacy: Employees access pharmacists directly who can authorize refills, manage medications, offer follow-ups, and educate patients.
  4. Telerehabilitation: Patients use hardware to track rehabilitation progress rather than recover from treatment in a rehabilitation facility.
  5. Telemental health: Mental health professionals provide psychological support to clients via email, text messaging, or video chat.

In 2018, the majority of large firms’ healthcare plans included telehealth options. Although reducing their out-of-pocket costs, only 9% of eligible employees used their telemedicine benefits.

With an average annual premium for an employer-sponsored family plan of $20,576, employers paid around $14,561 for each employee with a family plan in 2019.

Source: Kff.org

Telemedicine increases access to healthcare services and reduces premium costs. With greater access, employees can be healthier and more productive, which can lead to meaningful savings by the business.

Often, businesses offer telemedicine benefits that deliver services via direct-to-consumer (D2C) applications such as Lemonaid Health.

Source: app.apple.com

While the application is free, users pay $25 for consultation fees from doctors within the application’s network. This means that employees are not able to receive care from their existing primary care physician. The inconsistency in the care provider is likely a contributing factor to telemedicine’s slow uptake.

To avoid inconsistency, small businesses can collaborate with healthcare providers to integrate telemedicine services into their plans. This enables employees to receive care from trusted physicians with access to their medical history, streamlining the care experience.

For example, small businesses that provide plans via UnitedHealthcare can integrate telemedicine into their plans. Employees are then eligible to set up a user account that enables them to access Virtual Visits, which connects them to in-network doctors who offer telehealth using real-time audio and video technology.

By integrating telemedicine benefits into existing employer-sponsored healthcare plans, small businesses provide consistent and affordable care to employees.

2. Align Telemedicine Benefits with Employees’ Needs

For a telemedicine benefit to be effective, small businesses must offer a platform that meets both the business’s and its employees’ needs.

Review any vendor’s primary means of delivery. Whether an application is text, talk, or video dependent can influence employees’ engagement. 

For example, a telemedicine provider that delivers services through video conferences will not meet the needs of employees who live in rural areas with limited smartphone broadband. Instead, a small business owner should choose a vendor that focuses on texting or call services.

For those without connectivity concerns, video visits through applications such as PlushCare: Video Doctor Visits enable employees to transition from calls with live nurses or physicians to video for a visual exam.

Source: Plushcare.com

To capture the full spectrum of employees’ preferences, survey employees’ preferences anonymously. The data collected will guide you to make a more informed decision given the different services that telemedicine providers deliver.

For example, if your business experiences many employee injuries on the job, telerehabilitation and chronic condition management are valuable benefits to offer your employees.

In contrast, if your business requires employees to be sedentary for long periods of time, employees are unlikely to leverage a telerehabilitation benefit. Instead, you can integrate teleconsultation or telediagnosis services to better serve your employees’ health needs.

In addition to services, review reimbursement policies as state parity laws influence the amount of actual coverage.

Telehealth represents virtual access to a range of services for small businesses to leverage. When the services align with employees’ needs, businesses realize greater employee satisfaction and savings.

3. Make Benefits Known to Employees

As a relatively novel form of healthcare, small businesses should promote telemedicine benefits to their employees.

Since it’s a voluntary health benefit, employees can decide whether or not to leverage telemedicine. An incentive program can encourage employees to partake in the services.

For example, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)’s incentivized their organization’s program during its early stages. The association offered the telemedicine program at no charge for employees enrolled in the preferred provider organization plan.

To encourage engagement, small business leaders should educate employees about the benefit.

For example, communicate the many advantages of telemedicine such as the reduction of average physician visits to $50 and increased accessibility of care. As well, telemedicine mitigates the long wait times associated with doctors’ visits. With some plans, telemedicine visits are immediate.

Beyond generating excitement, it’s important to communicate telemedicine’s logistics.

For example, employees will need to learn how to access their telehealth platform. Leadership needs to demonstrate how to access the application either online or on mobile products. Employees may also want to know how to submit claims and when to use the new benefit.

It’s important to note that telemedicine does not supplant primary care. However, the benefit supplements visits with a primary care physician. Make clear to employees that telemedicine providers coordinate with primary care physicians to ensure they receive  proper healthcare.

Encourage reluctant employees who rely on regular benefits to use telemedicine for minor health concerns such as headaches or coughing. For employees with chronic illnesses, demonstrate the options that telemedicine provides to support existing services.

Provide Curated Telemedicine to Lower Healthcare Costs

Small businesses that offer telemedicine benefits in sponsored healthcare plans not only expand access to care but also reduce costs. 

Small businesses should consider the variety of services that telehealth encompasses before deciding on a provider. To ensure engagement, ensure that the telemedicine benefit is easy to use and accessible to employees.

Small businesses that invest time in increasing awareness about telemedicine benefits advance employees’ engagement. By increasing engagement, small businesses promote employees’ health and realize greater reductions in healthcare costs.

Technological innovations such as telemedicine provide a viable opportunity for small businesses to support employees and maintain cost-efficiency.

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