Is Telemedicine Living Up To The promise?

It’s probably not news to you that telemedicine is starting to revolutionize healthcare. Many of your clients may have implemented plans, and you’ve likely seen the presentations by big medical insurers. But you may have also seen that many of these plans aren’t delivering on their promises. 

But telemedicine is still changing. Face-to-face interactions have decreased in almost all industries, and medicine is certainly next. Better cellular networks and wifi hotspots and the increase in smartphones and tablets makes virtual physician access easier. A Wall Street Journal article called How Telemedicine is Transforming Healthcare even said, “After years of big promises, telemedicine is finally living up to its potential”. 

And the data supports it. In the Willis Towers Watson 2016 Emerging Trends in Health Care Survey, over 67% of 1,000+ employee companies will provide telemedicine in 2016. That number is forecasted to increase to 90% by 2018. With the rapid expansion of telemedicine programs and benefits, it’s critical that you understand this benefit so you can evaluate providers and provide the best recommendations to your clients.

Utilization is Key

When people talk about telemedicine, they want to talk about all the benefits of electronic communication, like how effective it is, how quick it is, what kind of cases they can diagnose. But no one talks about the number one problem facing telemedicine: no one is using it. The utilization rate of most telemedicine programs is very low. 

To understand utilization rate, let’s look at how it’s calculated and why it’s important. Utilization rate is the number of consultations per 1,000 primary members. When the utilization is low, the program isn’t actually benefiting anyone. It’s just a nice add-on to “check the box” that it’s been provided. Want the proof? Telemedicine programs embedded in major medical plans have a utilization rate below 1%. That’s less than 10 calls per 1,000 members. For the other employer-provided plans, the average utilization rate jumps to 7%. That’s a big increase, but still a small number.

Why is it so low? Lack of education and low awareness, plus difficulty to use and potential costs are all contributing factors. To drive a higher utilization rate, employees need to be aware and educated about the solution. To do that, a highly effective employee communication plan needs to be implemented. Another factor is misaligned priorities: many telemedicine programs were founded by insurance executives that actually want to minimize use.

But TelaCare is different. We want our program to drive savings for the employees and employer, while adding convenience and ease. That’s why we have the highest average utilization rate in the industry: 44% That’s six times higher than the industry average. 

A high utilization rate means more savings for the employer’s bottom line and for the employee’s households. We’re so confident in our solution that we contractually guarantee that the savings will be greater than the cost of the solution. If not, we’ll pay the difference. That’s the only savings guarantee in the entire telemedicine industry. 

What about quality?

One of the major concerns with telemedicine is quality. No employer wants to put their employees at risk for misdiagnosis or lower quality of care. That’s why here at TelaCare, we take quality seriously. We maintain a doctor to member ratio of 1 to 1,000, so that members don’t need to wait more than 5 minutes to talk to a physician. All our calls are recorded and reviewed for quality assurance. Most companies only review about 10% of their calls. Plus, we keep our physicians equipped with the most up-to-date clinical data, so they can have informed consultations.

What about the physician-patient relationship?

Another concern with the rise of telemedicine is the erosion of the physician-patient relationship. After all, having a long term relationship with one physician can dramatically improve quality of care. But unfortunately, it is difficult to see your primary physician quickly. The average wait time for a primary care doctor is 19 days. 

This means people resort to drugstore clinics, urgent care facilities, or the emergency room for common conditions like the cold, flu, pink eye, ear infections, and allergies. They aren’t going to their primary physician. These are the types of visits that telemedicine works best for.

Plus, it’s easy with TelaCare to provide documentation of the consultation to the primary physician. You can print, email, or fax it directly to them. This can be much harder with the independent clinics and urgent care facilities. 

Where are the savings?

Telemedicine programs should actually lower the total cost of healthcare, for both employers and employees. As mentioned before, many major health insurers include telemedicine in their medical plans. But to use the program, members have to pay a copay. This creates a disincentive for members to use the benefit. And we know that when the benefit isn’t used, it doesn’t drive any value for the employees or save the employer any money. In fact, telemedicine programs from the major medical insurers have a gross cost of $500,000. 

But with a highly utilized solution, where the provider’s incentives are aligned with the employer and employees, telemedicine should save the employer and employees money. How? Simple: diverted costs from visiting higher cost centers of care. 

In the WSJ article, it cites these example costs: telemedicine $45, primary care $1000, urgent care $150, emergency room $750+. Every time a member calls telemedicine instead of visiting one of these high cost-of-care centers, money is saved. And with the increase in self-insured plans for employers and high deductible health plans (HDHPs) for employees, that money saved goes directly in their pockets.

That doesn’t even take into account the savings from increased productivity. A trip to a medical facility can easily take an hour or more out of an employee’s day. A call to telemedicine should take fewer than 30 minutes. That time adds up, meaning big productivity boosts. 

So just how much can TelaCare save? Using the previous example of a 1,000 employee company, 350 physician office, urgent care clinic, and emergency room visits can be avoided and more than 700 hours of employee time can be saved in one year. This adds up to $100,000 or more in savings.

Why Choose TelaCare?

It’s clear that telemedicine is the way of the future, but it’s not there quite yet. The poll cited in the WSJ article showed that while 61% of consumers are open to using virtual health care services, a mere 16% have actually used them. The main draws of these virtual services are the convenience and cost savings that they can provide consumers. 

In an industry that has been historically perceived as inconvenient, expensive, and difficult to navigate, TelaCare is paving the way to change. Our goal is to provide quality care at a lower cost and with more convenience than traditional models. With our solution, members can be consulting with a US-based, licensed physician in under 5 minutes. Our virtual physicians can diagnose, treat, and prescribe necessary medications, all without a copay. Plus, there’s no risk to the employer. We offer the only savings guarantee in the industry: our solution pays for itself or we pay the difference. 

So why not choose TelaCare?

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