3 Reasons Telehealth Utilization Remains So Low

Nearly 85 percent of people with employer-provided health insurance in the United States have access to some level of telemedicine. But hardly any of them use it. Why is that? Many of the problems in this industry stem from a “check the box” mentality. Currently, most health insurers, employee benefits brokers, and employers have the mentality that being able to say that telemedicine is provided is sufficient. They are not closely evaluating the solutions and competitors. Unfortunately, this mindset has led to multiple problems in the industry, all of which result in low utilization. Let’s examine three ways this has happened.

1. Lack of education for end-users

Since few of these stakeholders are spending much time on telehealth, they aren’t educating employees on how, when, or why to use the service. Without building awareness and understanding, employees will not change their behavior.

Employers need to view telehealth as a strategic benefit that when deployed effectively, can reduce costs, medical absenteeism (time off work for medical care), and medical presenteeism (coming into work sick and infecting others). Not to mention that employees can also save money, time, and hassle.

Only when brokers and employers understand the strategic importance of telemedicine will they invest in educating their employees.

2. Emphasis on lowest upfront cost instead of best value

Another effect of a “check the box” mentality is that instead of focusing on value, brokers and employers are simply choosing the lowest cost telemedicine option. But like anything else in life, you get what you pay for. The cheapest solutions are rarely the best, even if they have the greatest market.

In fact, some telemedicine solutions are free so that the companies can maintain market share. Either they are sold through a health insurance plan (where any costs are built into the overall premium, making it seem “free” to the employer and employee), or the company gives it away for free and operates at a loss. These companies are backed by outside investment, giving them more time to become profitable.

By focusing on lowest upfront cost, employers are missing an opportunity to find a solution that actually works well for their employees. Instead, they may get a benefit no one uses.

3. Unsatisfactory service

Because of the emphasis on the lowest upfront cost and the lack of education, many users have bad experiences when they try telemedicine. Without understanding when or why to use the solution, they may not use it appropriately or have proper expectations. A super low-cost solution may have long wait times, complicated sign ups, or fees/co-pays charged per consultation.

They end up walking away from their telehealth experience with a negative opinion (if they even get all the way to a consultation).

Don’t Just “Check the Box” on Telehealth

Telehealth still has the potential to be a game-changer for health care if utilization increases. When people use telehealth, they save themselves money, time, and hassle. And employers save on medical costs as well as medical absenteeism and presenteeism. But to realize this vision, we need to stop viewing telemedicine as a commodity. Don’t simply check the box on telemedicine – get educated on the industry and pick a solution that actually works.

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