In Mercer’s most recent survey of employer-sponsored health plans, we saw PPO deductibles increase and more employers move to consumer-directed plans, which typically have higher deductibles than traditional PPO plans. For many, escalating upfront deductibles are a real financial burden. What are employers doing to soften the blow? According to our survey, 18% of employers are offering a telemedicine option for employees, up from 11% in 2013. The largest employers are moving fastest — 34% of those with 20,000 or more employees offered telemedicine services in 2014, nearly double the number offering it in 2013.
Telemedicine provides members with on-demand access to physicians who can diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication, when appropriate, for many medical issues. Members are required to complete a medical history prior to consult request. Doctor consultations are available 24/7 via telephone or video and in many instances can be arranged with very little lead time. A board-certified physician licensed in their state reviews their medical history and provides a consultation over the phone or through video. The physician recommends the treatment for the member’s medical issue. If a prescription drug is required, the physician will electronically send the order to the member’s pharmacy of choice. The physician documents the consultation in the member’s history, and information is made available to the member through an online archive and, if requested, to the member’s primary care physician.
So what does a telemedicine visit cost? Typically between $30 and $50, depending on the vendor. The real savings come because a telemedicine visit frequently replaces a more intensive setting of care, whether a doctor’s office, urgent care facility, or emergency room. If the member is paying out of pocket for the visit because they have not yet met their deductible, they can save a significant amount of money.
Obviously, consulting a doctor from home is also more convenient than making a trip to their office. But do people feel confident that an electronic visit will produce the same result as a live visit? There’s evidence they do — especially if they and the doctor can see each other. Harris Poll did a survey for American Well and found that 64% of those surveyed said they were willing to see a doctor via a video telemedicine visit. Further, about the same percentage (63%) said they thought a video visit would result in a more accurate diagnosis than a phone or email consultation. (See full infographic below.)
Don’t currently offer telemedicine? You can add it now — no need to wait for open enrollment. This benefit is very easy to add in the middle of a plan year. Employees will appreciate a lower-cost alternative especially early in the year when the re-set button has just been applied to their deductible.