Hello again! It’s Meisha, the Content Marketing Manager here at PlanSource. I’m here to chat about something that recently impacted me personally and why I think it’s a great and underutilized resource for employees—telehealth.
A few months ago, I had a personal trip planned that bumped right up against a work trip. The entire trip was 10 days long, so my luggage was packed to the brim for the extended trip.
A few days into the personal portion of the getaway, I began to feel a little under the weather. Over the counter cold medication wasn’t doing the trick and things quickly began to go downhill. I was researching local urgent care clinics and trying to figure out costs for a weekend visit and which providers were actually in my network when I remembered—I have telehealth! I had never used it before but this occassion seemed like the perfect time to whip out my card (er, email) and look up the telehealth info.
Before I knew it, I was able to schedule a quick virtual consult with a doctor and had medications sent to a local pharmacy up the road. Being sick while on vacation certainly wasn’t fun, but having access to the help I needed when I needed it was invaluable and saved me several hundred dollars in out-of-network costs.
I am now a raving fan of telehealth and frequently share my personal experience with family and friends in need. The program saved me time and money, which is reason enough for me to sing praises from the rooftop.
But how important is telehealth, really, and how can you transform your workforce into raving fans? I’ve got a few tips to help you promote your telehealth program to increase awareness and engagement.
What is Telehealth?
The Health Resources Services Administration defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”
In layman’s terms, you can think of telehealth like remote health care. Patients can use technology like a video chat to quickly and conveniently connect with a certified health provider. And, the health care practitioner can send a prescription to a nearby pharmacy for timely treatment.
Time and money—simply put, those are the two primary reasons to invest in and promote a telehealth program.
Telehealth is significantly less expensive than other methods of seeking treatment—urgent care, in-office doctor visits or a trip to the emergency room.
It is estimated that $8.3 billion (yes, billion with a ‘b’) are wasted each year due to patients visiting the emergency room for issues that could easily be resolved with a doctor visit or remote consult. These unnecessary visits clog up hospitals and increase the overall cost of providing health care.
Additionally, telehealth visits are readily available on-demand, and the time to see a doctor and the average time of a consultation are much faster and more convenient than an in-person visit.
Know When To Go
One of the biggest barriers to telehealth is educating employees on the appropriate scenarios to engage with telehealth versus an urgent or emergency care facility.
Telehealth is great for diagnosing and seeking treatment for common health conditions, including minor aches and pains, bronchitis or other respiratory infections, allergies, strep throat, pink eye, ear infections, the flu and more.
Seeking treatment for these common medical conditions will take much more time in a doctor’s office and will likely be much more expensive than a quick video chat with a telehealth provider.
Of course, telehealth is not for everything! Here are a few other scenarios that might require a visit to an urgent care of on-site medical facility:
- Treatment that requires x-ray, MRI or lab testing
- Cuts and bleeding that might require stitches
- Sprains or broken bones
- Minor back pain
While not an emergency, these scenarios are a great fit for a local doctor or urgent care facility.
A trip to the emergency room should generally be saved for true emergencies—meaning a life-threatening condition.
Symptoms that warrant a trip to the emergency room include severe chest pain, numbness or paralysis, high fevers, severe head injuries, obstructed breathing, allergic reactions, and severe vomiting—to name a few.
Also keep in mind that, while traditional telehealth programs were designed to treat simple medical conditions, the scope of what telehealth can cover has grown to include everything from diabetes management and smoking cessation to mental health treatment and so much more. Be sure to have a full understanding of exactly what services your telehealth program incorporates and work that information into your communications and materials.
Efficiently and effectively educating employees on the appropriate use of telehealth will set them up for success in the future when they experience health issues.
Telehealth Education and Communication
Simple communication and effective education are key to encouraging telehealth adoption. And, while open enrollment is a natural time to introduce and announce telehealth benefits, don’t forget about reinforcing the program throughout the year during key periods, like flu and allergy seasons when health issues naturally arise more frequently.
Here are a few specific channels and tools that can help spread the word about telehealth:
Email is still one of the most effective ways to communicate with the masses. Be sure to include info on your telehealth program during the moments it matters most, which isn’t limited to open enrollment. Yes, prominently promote telehealth benefits during OE, but also throughout the year during period when doctor visits typically peak:
- Flu season
- Allergy season
- Holiday/travel seasons
Keep your program top-of-mind throughout the year and send out timely reminders that include quick information about how to access treatment. And, be sure to use email best practices to increase engagement.
Telehealth can be a hard concept to explain, so make it super simple with a short and engaging video. You can borrow ours, we don’t mind!
Studies have shown that video is actually one of the most effective ways to convey new information, which makes video a natural fit for employee benefits education.
How can you use video? Well, video can be housed internally via an intranet or on a benefits website. Additionally, you can send out video via email and text messages or house them directly within the benefits shopping experience (if your benefits administration platform allows).
Text Message Alerts
When’s the last time you ignored a text message? Ok—excluding ones from the in-laws (whoops!).
Text message alerts traditionally have a much higher open rate compared to email (89% vs 20%) and are a great way to communicate directly with employees. You can also send direct links via text, which makes it easy for employees to keep login information at their fingertips.
Despite the high response rates, which make them rather effective, text messages can have a few potential downfalls. Alerts are opt-in, so you likely won’t reach your entire workforce. And remember, you should save text message alerts for important HR updates; don’t abuse the system or employees will opt-out!
Just like I had a great experience with our telehealth program, you likely have employees at your organization that have used and loved their remote health care treatment.
You can easily identify employee advocates by simply asking! Do you have an internal company newsletter? If so, add in a quick mention about your telehealth initiative and ask for volunteers to share their experience. You could turn this feedback into a quick video or re-purpose quotes in your emails, print pieces and digital materials.
Here is a really quick example of a telemedicine testimonial. It doesn’t have to be a high production, time consuming process. If you have the resources for that—great! Definitely use them. But even capturing quick videos via a phone and uploading them via a private link can be a great resource to easily share.
Telehealth Plan Design
There are a few different ways to structure a telehealth program. The two most popular are 100% employer paid or employer paid with an employee co-pay.
While a low co-pay (ex: $20) probably won’t scare off many employees, a 100% employer paid program can boost participation, which could work to lower the company’s overall health care costs over time.
Discuss options with your benefits broker or adviser to decide on a strategy that’s best.
There you have it—5 easy ways to boost engagement and adoption of your telehealth program. Remember—driving a returin on your telehealth investment requires employees to actually use the program! Incorporate a few of the tips above into your education and communication strategy this year to start driving engagement and participation.
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