What Makes Telemedicine Work?

Telemedicine is a great way to save money and provide employees with a convenient way to manage their health. It is also a term that strikes fear into the hearts of human resources directors. Like any benefit, telemedicine only saves employers money if employees utilize it. Believe it or not, the industry-wide average utilization rate is just under 5% and there are some companies with utilization rates as low as 1%. This fact terrifies finance executives, who know that a low utilization rates means that telemedicine services end up costing a company money rather than producing savings.

It's a bit counterintuitive, but the only way to save money through telemedicine is to increase employee utilization of a service that is already designed to be convenient and affordable for employees. The trouble is that human nature is always resistant to change, particularly in an industry like health care. Individuals are accustomed to accessing medical services in a certain way, namely by visiting a physical location (e.g. office, hospital, urgent care, etc.). Even those aware of telemedicine and the convenience it offers are reluctant to participate because the concept is foreign.

What many people don't realize is that it is often unnecessary, when dealing with coughs, colds, infections, and other common ailments, to see a physician face-to-face. They also don't realize that telemedicine physicians are trained to identify when a patient needs to visit a physical location and will say as much when appropriate.

In the end, no manner of coercion on the part of management and no barrage of emails from HR can change an employee's mind. We need to understand that it is the telemedicine provider itself that must work to encourage utilization. We have heard the message loud and clear and, because we actually do want to do right by the companies we contract with and the employees whose health we can impact, we go the extra mile to encourage utilization.

There are telemedicine services, like Telacare, that have participation and utilization rates that routinely rank 4 to 10 times above the industry average. We achieve such outstanding utilization because we effectively communicate one thing to employees and employers alike: telemedicine saves time. More than anything else, telemedicine is a convenience that gives employees more free time. Once they realize that telemedicine is a time-saver, people's emotions shift and they begin to see the value in the service. That leads to a change in habits and an increase in utilization rates.

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