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How to Promote Virtual Doctor Visits to Save Employees Money

Cathy Siska COO

Cathy Siska
Chief Operating Officer

Virtual doctor visits also known as telemedicine, telehealth, and e-health is a great step forward in the healthcare industry for individuals and for companies that sponsor health insurance plans. Virtual visits have created a path for connecting people and physicians and provide a better value for all.

Virtual visits use technology, usually a computer, tablet, or smartphone, to connect a doctor and patient for evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. Patients may also be able to obtain prescriptions for some common issues, depending on state laws.

The virtual doctor visit is still a developing area in health care and employers should regularly educate themselves and employees to take full advantage of these programs which are often already part of the company’s offered medical plans.

Trends in Utilization of Virtual Doctor Visits

The accessibility and affordability of virtual doctor visits has great appeal to all, and especially to employers looking to create opportunities for health care savings. According to a survey released by the National Business Group on Health, 97 percent of large employers in the U.S. are predicted to offer their employees access to telemedicine services by 2019. Does your company offer a plan that covers virtual visits yet?

91 percent report better outcome virtual visit

Benefits of Virtual Doctor Visits

Virtual Visits offer many advantages to consumers and can be as or even more beneficial than a traditional in-person doctor’s visit. While virtual visits cannot replace all the aspects and benefits of face-to-face care with a primary physician, it can be a helpful and cost-effective supplement or replacement for certain traditional medical care.

  • Remote Access: Virtual visits will continue to grow in importance to communities where access to primary or specialist care is limited. These could be rural, remote, or generally underserved areas without nearby hospitals or physicians. Through telemedicine consumers in these areas can receive care.

  • Specialist Availability: Even when patients are in urban areas it may be difficult to find specialists who are available. Virtual visits not only provide access, but cost-savings for consumers who may have had to travel far or even out-of-network to find an appropriate specialist.

  • Mental Health: Mental health care is being provided via virtual visit which offers the benefit of easy access, specialist availability, but also privacy and security. Consumers can receive care from the comfort of home or on-the-go when needed.

  • Cost Savings: Lower costs is another benefit of virtual visits that comes both from generally a lower copay than urgent care, travel savings, and reduction in time off from work. Virtual monitoring can also help lessen the overall financial burden of managing certain chronic conditions.

  • Convenience: For some, the convenience and comfort of seeing a doctor from home is a tremendous advantage, perhaps the most valuable, because it protects their time. However, the convenience of virtual doctor visits can also improve care. For example, patients will likely have access to their prescriptions and medical records for reference. It can also be more convenient for the elderly, disabled, those who do not speak English, or those with agoraphobia.

virtual visit can save 106 minutes

How to Overcome Challenges of Virtual Doctor Visits

Though virtual visits and virtual mental health services clearly have their advantages, there are also a handful of disadvantages and potential legal pitfalls.

  • Fewer In-person Consultations/Reduced Care Continuity: Having an established and trusting relationship with their doctor is crucial to consumers long-term health, and can also save money in the long run. Research shows that patients who have a good relationship with their doctor receive better care and are happier with the care they receive. In cases where patients are using on-demand telemedicine services that connect them with a random health care provider, care continuity may suffer.

    Moreover, a patient’s primary care provider may not have access to records from telehealth visits, and telehealth doctors may not have access to a patient’s health history, which can create problems for both health care providers and the patient.

    The lack of continuity and lack of relationship can be overcome by taking a few actions. Employers should always stress the importance of the primary care physician relationship. Utilizing the primary care physician relationship well can save money and time, when consumers have their most concerns monitored by one doctor who has access to all their history and records.

    To avoid issues where records cannot be accessed, educate employees on how to utilize their virtual visit application to share records of these visits with their primary care physician. Some virtual visits apps may also allow consumers to choose the same doctor for their virtual visit, giving them a bit more regularity to these interactions.

  • Virtual Visits Require Specific Technology/Technological Skills: Virtual visits happen over the internet or phone, so patients must have access to the internet and possess the necessary technological skills for virtual visits to be effective.

    How can these technological needs and skills gap be addressed by employers? An easy way to help employees is to provide assistance right in the office. Set up a private room with a tablet, smartphone, or computer that can be used for virtual visits (and online benefits enrollment!). The key is to make sure you provide privacy and be open to allowing employees to use the service during the day.

    To help those with technology skills gap, you can host a lunch and learn about the virtual visit services covered by your plan to go through how to use the application. If your service allows visits by phone call, promote this as another option to the internet based visits. Be mindful of HIPAA guidelines when assisting employees to ensure that their information is not shared in the office without their consent.

How to Promote Virtual Doctor Visits to Employees

The way in which employers communicate any benefits information to employees has a huge impact on how well the programs are understood, utilized and perceived by employees. Talking to your employees specifically about virtual visits is a great topic year-round that helps save them money, time, and stress.

Creating Your Virtual Visit Communication Plan

There are a variety of steps to take when developing a communications plan, including the following:

Prepare your communication plan of action.

  • Determine who will prepare your benefits communications and the costs involved.
  • Designate responsibilities for the preparation of each communication. Be sure to consider both internal and external assistance. Check with your carrier and broker to get access to their existing materials for virtual visits.

Understand benefits communication responsibilities and get organized.

  • Develop a plan that includes required, as well as optional communications that may be helpful. Setting up a timeline makes it easier for you and your team to stay on track and timely with your message to employees.
  • Keep employees and beneficiaries informed of changes to their benefits, and explain confusing terms and features of the plans. For example, carriers may change their covered virtual visit provider, the name of the website may change, or it may be hard to find the applicable copay. Keep employees in the loop to ensure they can receive the care they need in the manner of their choice without hassle.

Select, prepare and distribute communications to fit corporate objectives and employee needs.

  • Decide what type of communication will be most appropriate for relaying messages to employees. Phone calls, email, text, carrier pigeon? One size doesn’t fit all, generally, a mix of communication methods will help you cover all the bases of your employee population. You can always ask employees how they’d prefer to hear about benefits information.
  • Make sure your communications plan includes frequent communications so that the topic is top of mind for employees when it becomes time for them to consider using the benefit.

Evaluate the effectiveness of your benefits communications.

  • Survey employees and make recommendations based on feedback.
  • Review behavior after communications are distributed. Did your communications show an increase in virtual visit usage or discussion among employees?
  • Revise your communications to meet realistic goals and expectations, your employees’ needs, your communication plan objectives and your organization’s requirements.

Employers are ultimately responsible for educating their employees about the health coverage options they offer, including telemedicine coverage. Bringing better communication and education tools to employees about how to save money and time is never a waste. Employees will be grateful for information provided that is easy to understand, timely, and accurate.

Not sure where to start with promoting virtual visits? Contact the experts at Austin Benefits Group to find out more about our custom benefits communication and marketing plans.