Telehealth is one of the fastest growing segments of health care today. My company — a telehealth and wellness provider — gets 39 percent of the members that offer our telehealth services to use the services.
This means more people are avoiding unnecessary ER, urgent care and doctor visits while doing so in the comfort of their own homes, while on vacation or even at work.
Well-designed telehealth services can have a significant impact on claims, employee productivity, insurance premiums and employee satisfaction. By providing plan members the choice of calling or videoing with a physician for common conditions that are proven to be handled safely and effectively through telehealth, members can redirect claims away from the healthcare plan, while saving them time and money.
Employers and brokers are always asking me how my company gets such high telehealth utilization rates.
To learn about some of the factors to consider in driving telehealth utilization, read on.
1. Plan design.
Plan design is the greatest driver of utilization. It’s important to communicate how telehealth fits into the health plan to drive utilization away from higher cost, more inconvenient alternatives.
It is paramount that telehealth is put at the front of the plan as opposed to being buried as just another value-added benefit. There are several ways to drive utilization through plan design.
For example, even a slight increase in co-pays or deductibles can dramatically increase utilization to a telehealth program, resulting in lower premiums and happier members.
If positioned carefully, members will understand the plan reasoning and see the increase in co-pays and/or deductibles as a positive since they now have round-the-clock access to quality care at their fingertips.
Communication about how telehealth works with the plan is essential.
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2. Free, unlimited consultations.
Our surveys and experience show that any cost to call a doctor is met with strong resistance when an employee is faced with trying a new telehealth service. If there’s any doubt in the users’ mind about when to use their telehealth service, chances are they’ll stick with their habit of going to the doctor’s office, ER or Urgent Care to avoid another fee.
Telehealth is about modifying behavior through choice, so removing the barrier of a consult fee allows an employee to try the service with no risk. This has proven to engage members and make a real difference. If it ends up being an issue that cannot be addressed in a phone or video consultation, the user is not out the cost of the consult fee and faced with another co-pay in a traditional care setting.
With no fee per consult, the employee has no risk to use the service so they can consult with a doctor when a child’s fever is high in the middle of the night without hesitation.
3. Dedicated staff focused on engagement.
My company has a team whose sole responsibility is to help member companies and employee groups communicate and market the service to their employees.
Most telehealth benefits are buried in a member’s benefit plan design, when the exact opposite is needed for high utilization. Telehealth should be made a top priority by the benefits administrators as it addresses close to 80 percent of an employee’s medical issues.
Be sure to pick a telehealth provider that has proven strategies that support the administrators. Simply putting up work posters and sending a monthly newsletter just doesn’t cut it.
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4. High utilization encouraged.
By including a telehealth service with other health care resources such as online wellness coaching, physician scheduling and a prescription drug pricing transparency tool, the employee is engaged in many ways throughout the year. This is essential to ensure that when someone is sick, they remember their telehealth service.
We use our supporting services to communicate and engage employees so we are “top of mind” when care is needed.
When telehealth is a stand alone product, the odds of employees remembering the service at the time of need is very slim. These supporting services are used as tools to communicate to employees when they are receptive to change, not just when they are sick.
5. Bundled health care tools and resources.
A telehealth business model should be built for high utilization. Many telehealth models are built on low utilization, and there is a possibility that rates can increase if the service is used too much.
If a telehealth service looks too good to be true, with low fees and minimal or no consult fees, there is a high probability that you are dealing with a low-utilization model.
Although these plans do serve a purpose in some cases, just know that member engagement will not be included.
See also: Other ways to make wellness work