From how we celebrate happy hours and weddings to how we learn and work, COVID-19 has pushed our lives into the digital space. How we interact with healthcare is no exception.
Doctors’ offices and hospital emergency rooms now pose a health risk, and more Americans than ever are looking to telemedicine (often called telehealth or virtual care) as a solution. Patients, doctors, regulators and employers recognize its potential to expand care for physical and mental health needs.
As a benefits professional, you need to know 10 things about telemedicine in 2020.
- Safety Is Key: The pandemic is illuminating the role that telemedicine plays in keeping people safe. You are less likely to get sick with COVID-19 if you avoid places where sick people congregate. Employees should not need to risk exposure at their doctor’s office to get treatment for a simple ear infection or poison ivy rash.
- Awareness Is Growing: More patients than ever are realizing the promise of telemedicine during COVID-19, but some patients don’t know how to use it. Instructive communications from HR or the benefits provider are essential to driving utilization.
- Usage Is Increasing: TelaCare Health saw an 86% increase in telemedicine consults from 2019 to 2020. But while COVID-19 consults have increased, patients’ primary concerns are still illnesses such as ear, sinus and urinary tract infections.
- Technology Is Surging: Not long ago, most telemedicine patients dialed a phone number to reach a doctor, but in 2020, 81% of people have a smartphone. As a result, most patients are using the TelaCare Health mobile app or website to get care.
- Services Are Widening: Telemedicine has grown not only in volume, but also in scope. At-home COVID-19 testing and prescription delivery are among the services now available from some providers, or as an employee benefit from some employers.
- Regulations Are Receding: The CARES Act made changes at the federal level that are affecting delivery of and payment for telemedicine services. Telemedicine HIPAA regulations have been temporarily relaxed, and some states have lifted physician-licensing regulations.
- Employers Are Expanding Coverage: Prior to COVID-19, most employers offered telemedicine to full-time employees as part of their benefits plan. But the pandemic has seen nearly half of employers expanding their healthcare benefits.
- Mental Health Is a Priority: Nearly half of workers say that work-related concerns have left them burned-out during COVID-19, according to SHRM. The need for virtual mental health counseling is a top priority during anxious times like these.
- Costs Are a Factor: 57% of employers surveyed by TelaCare Health in 2020 say that cost savings is a factor when determining healthcare benefits for the following year. Telemedicine is an effective way for employers to save by redirecting healthcare spending away from more expensive options, such as the emergency room or urgent care.
- Employees Must Be Delighted: Ultimately, telemedicine providers must deliver an amazing experience to the employees they serve. Telemedicine is a technology that enables healthcare, and as with any 21st-century technology, people expect quick response times and simple user interfaces. When employees have a positive experience, they spread the word to friends, family and colleagues.
Telemedicine, telehealth or virtual care, is the logical go-to during COVID-19 for many patients, doctors and counselors. But as the world reopens, patients will continue to expect convenient, high-quality care with just a click and at little to no cost. Telemedicine is a healthcare benefit that’s here to stay.