Employers looking to differentiate their benefit offerings are often searching for the latest trends in benefits for employees. One such trend is to offer telemedicine as a component of an overall healthcare benefit package.
One of the biggest reasons people are reluctant to make appointments with their doctor for nonemergency care is how much time it takes. There’s the driving time, time in the waiting room, time in lines, time in the exam room waiting on the doctor, etc. It often ends up taking a half day of paid time off (PTO) just for a routine appointment—even when the office is nearby. When PTO is scarce, that’s even more incentive to skip the appointment. Telemedicine looks to help solve this problem. By using video-calling technology combined with fast Internet speeds, healthcare providers and patients can meet online, saving a lot of that time and removing barriers to making time for visits.
Telemedicine is usually provided via either an app or a website, allowing individuals to connect with healthcare providers as needed. It’s much more flexible for the individual and can be conducted from anywhere there’s a connection. The healthcare provider can still review the individual’s medical history and, when using video, can still visually assess the patient as needed. Often, telemedicine hours go beyond standard office hours for physicians, which is of particular benefit to those who live or work far away from the nearest healthcare center.
Pros of Offering Telemedicine as an Employee Benefit
- Telemedicine means employees will be more likely to see a doctor for any problems before they become worse and before they become absences. This saves everyone time and money and future issues.
- Telemedicine can reduce employee stress by providing a way to handle minor medical issues without having to utilize PTO or lose pay.
- Telemedicine visits are much cheaper than relying on after-hours care, like urgent care centers or emergency rooms, for medical needs outside of work hours. Telemedicine visits are also usually cheaper than a standard office visit and are often possible all hours of the day.
- Many common ailments can be diagnosed efficiently through a conversation with a patient without the need for an in-person exam, thus streamlining the process. When that’s not possible, next steps can still often be taken before an in-person appointment, such as ordering lab tests or calling in prescriptions.
- Telemedicine greatly reduces wait time. Some systems are even run without appointments on a truly as-needed basis. This means there’s no need to wait days or weeks for an available appointment.
- Telemedicine can be a great way to manage ongoing health needs or chronic conditions with fewer in-person visits.
- No visits to a healthcare facility means less exposure to other ill people.
Cons of Offering Telemedicine as an Employee Benefit
Despite the benefits, employers that offer this service often find it difficult to get employees to utilize it. These may be some of the reasons:
- This type of visit requires employees to have the technology to utilize the service or the employer to provide a private space for such use.
- Employees may fear their privacy could be compromised, even if this fear is unfounded.
- Some employees may be uncomfortable utilizing a telemedicine benefit because the healthcare provider available at any given time will likely not be their own primary care provider. They may need extra information to be assured that the provider they’re talking with will meet their needs.
- Training and communication will still be required by the employer and may need to be frequently repeated.
- Providing this benefit means ensuring that the program selected meets all legal obligations, which can vary by state and add complexity.
If your organization offers this benefit, what has your experience been?
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.