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16 Nov 2016

What telemedicine, Blockbuster and Netflix have in common

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We saw it with video, we saw it with banking, and now we’re seeing it with digital health.

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Originally posted By Jeff Oldham – November 14, 2016

Reposted by Physician Licensing Service – November 16, 2016

Having all of your information available on one digital platform is the new norm, and it’s no wonder healthcare is moving in the same direction. Now that Americans are transitioning from co-payments to bigger deductibles due to the rise of high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), digital health is peaking interest when it comes to cutting costs. Employers are helping their employees manage these high deductibles by offering telemedicine benefits, and I predict it’ll be the next Blockbuster to Netflix movement.

According to Benefitfocus’ 2016 State of Employee Benefits report, 52% of large employers now offer at least one high-deductible health plan, and 41% of employees select an HDHP over a traditional plan when given the option. In an age where healthcare costs are skyrocketing, high-deductible health plans offer immediate costs savings, especially when coupled with a Health Savings Account (HSA). This option is especially attractive for generally healthy individuals who tend to spend less on healthcare, but still pay a high premium for more traditional plans. But with a higher deductible comes a caveat—people must pay out of pocket until it’s covered, which makes them take a closer look at how much doctor’s visits actually cost.

Enter telemedicine. A typical charge for a telemedicine visit is $40, compared to $125 for an office visit, and the best part is, it’s covered tax-free under an HSA. This is a substantial savings for people who haven’t yet met their deductible when they need a regular checkup or an emergency that doesn’t require an in-office visit. A recent survey from Mercer found 59% of large U.S. firms now cover a telemedicine program compared to just 30% in 2015. The usage numbers are only predicted to grow, and now that more insurers are embracing digital health services, we’re bound to see even more companies adopt telemedicine offerings.

Most fascinating about telemedicine is most people automatically assume it’s a millennial benefit, but the fact is, it’s incredibly useful for every generation. I’ve seen telemedicine act as a Medicare supplement for seniors who do not wish or are unable to leave their homes. Telehealth advocates and providers see senior telemedicine use as the next major market, especially for the 1 in 5 people older than 65 who live outside of a metropolitan area away from doctor’s offices. It’s opening a whole new door in healthcare where they can take wellness measures from the comfort of their own space.

The benefits of telemedicine go beyond cash-saving perks. By offering a telemedicine option, employers are sending the message that they care about workplace wellbeing. On the back of the recent “unsick day” trend, where employers give employees the day off to take preventative healthcare measures, it’s clear employers are realizing employees undergo a significant amount of stress when missing work. Since telemedicine is virtual, it’s more flexible—many providers even offer 24-hour access. It gives people the opportunity to check up on their health without the added time it takes to get to and from the doctor’s office, lessening the stress of using a sick day.

With telemedicine a generally new trend, how can employers convince employees to opt-in? To get employees to take advantage of this benefit, employers who offer telemedicine should consider educational tactics to communicate the availability and perks of using it, including video or health care transparency tools to show the potential savings. Think of it this way. Benefits are a language that most people don’t speak, and if they do, it’s only once a year for a few weeks during open enrollment. By offering year-round educational tools, employees are always in the know and can even bring home the “how-to” of telemedicine to their spouse or family members. This will encourage higher utilization and give people the full scope of what they can do with digital health.

Today, people expect more than just traditional healthcare, and furthermore, they expect it to be affordable. With telemedicine, employers can give their employees financial relief in the new HDHP landscape so they can worry less about hefty bills and more about taking care of themselves. Telemedicine exists in the same vein as Netflix and ATM banking.

Remember when we all went to Blockbuster to rent a video? Now we download entertainment digitally from Netflix. The analogy also holds true for the shift to more use of telehealth.

People are looking for a cost-effective, easily accessible platform to meet all their needs. Even though telemedicine is revered in its simplicity, it’s an incredibly comprehensive health care perk that’s likely to grow as more people uncover its benefits.

Jeff Oldham, is vice president of consumer strategy for Benefitfocus. He has worked in the benefits industry for 19 years, focusing on technology, medical and ancillary benefits management, along with wellness and disease management. He has been at Benefitfocus for over six years and leads the Benefitstore voluntary benefit consulting team.

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