Five benefits of telemedicine for Wisconsin employers and their employees

Technology is impacting our lives in ways that would have been hard to imagine a few decades ago.

Innovations in health care offer the possibility to greatly improve the lives of your employees and help your company control costs.

Telemedicine, or telehealth, is a growing trend in health care. Multiple case studies reveal how it can save money, time and lives. Telemedicine involves using secure, site-to-site electronic communications including video-conferencing, emails, phone calls, mobile applications, electronic medical record transfers and even operating medical devices remotely.

While the concept of telemedicine has been around for half a century, the practice has improved dramatically as technology continues connecting us all.

If providers in your company’s healthcare plan use telemedicine or if you’re part of a wellness program offering options like counseling via phone, it’s smart to recommend using the services.

However, it helps for you to understand telehealth’s benefits so you can help employees learn about these five advantages and conveniences connected to telemedicine.

1. Improved access to medical experts

In many cases, patients must travel long distances for an appointment with a specialist. But, telemedicine makes it possible for experts to work with their patients remotely. This reduces patient time away from work, which has a positive impact on workplace productivity.

For example, Marshfield Clinic’s Telehealth service allows patients to visit participating locations and have a face-to-face appointment with a Marshfield Clinic specialist in a different city via interactive video conferencing. A Telehealth Nurse Clinician is with the patient to explain the process and help set up the video connection. Family members and primary care providers often participate in these appointments.

2. Potential to see a doctor from home or work

Telemedicine services allow an individual to remain in the comfort of home when communicating with a specialist or primary care provider.

This accommodates members of your company’s health plan with mobility issues. People confined to their homes won’t then have to travel for each appointment.

This can be helpful when an employee who suffers a workplace injury finds it difficult to drive, or it could impact an employee’s family member covered by your company’s plan. Other examples could include older employees who are no longer driving or are reluctant to drive during Wisconsin’s winter, as well as people who simply lack access to transportation.

Telemedicine can also improve workplace productivity. When employees can speak with a healthcare provider via electronic communications over a lunch break instead of leaving work for hours at a time, it can lead to a noticeable reduction in absenteeism.

The director of benefits for a major textbook publisher in Boston, Carl Cudworth, told Bloomberg BNA that telemedicine cut back on employees’ time away from work. After just six months, he believed the use of telemedicine helped reduce lost productivity by about half a day per worker.

3. Helpful for employees in rural areas

Many Wisconsin employers have workers living in rural areas of the state. Telemedicine provides those individuals with the convenience of accessing medical experts and primary care providers regardless of where they call home.

This is an important issue because there is a notable shortage of physicians in rural and remote areas. Research shows there are only 40 physicians available for every 100,000 people in rural areas. Technology like telemedicine removes the obstacle of distance and improves access for employees who live in small, rural communities.

4. Increased patient engagement

The simple fact that telemedicine can be more convenient helps encourage employees to get more involved with their health. That’s partly because it increases the likelihood your employees will have important communication with their health care providers and that it will happen more often.

This is especially important for employees with a chronic illness, such as diabetes or cardiovascular issues. Improved access to healthcare professionals helps these individuals manage conditions and discuss ways to prevent further complications. It can also give healthcare providers a glimpse into a patient’s home life, which is not possible during office visits.

Beyond that, there is evidence to show telemedicine could also encourage patient honesty. An article from health care technology company VSee proposes that being in more comfortable, familiar surroundings could help people relax and admit to shortcomings regarding their personal health.

A growing number of insurance carriers are offering telehealth services through wellness programs associated with employer health coverage. That includes our website’s sponsor, Security Health Plan of Wisconsin Inc.

Marshfield Clinic’s Care My Way® service provides a toll-free number Security Health Plan members can call to get a quick diagnosis and treatment recommendation for common concerns like the flu, sinus infections or pink eye. A nurse practitioner is even available to send a prescription to the pharmacy of choice if needed.

A 24-hour Nurse Line also allows members enrolled in participating plans to seek care from registered nurses whenever their families need it. Records of those calls may also become part of a caller’s medical file, which keeps physicians well-informed.

Telephonic health coaching is another way health insurance companies like Security Health Plan provide added value to employer coverage. Health coaches can help with non-emergency issues like weight management, stress management and tobacco cessation.

5. Cost effective for employee and employer

From a big-picture perspective, an analysis from Towers Watson suggests telemedicine has the potential to generate as much as $6 billion in savings for U.S. companies.

“While this analysis highlights a maximum potential savings, even a significantly lower level of use could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in savings,” said Dr. Allan Khoury, a senior consultant at Towers Watson.

Fewer emergency room visits, better adherence to preventive health advice and reduced workplace absenteeism help employers reduce costs, and telemedicine lets your employees save money by eliminating travel costs. The American Hospital Association (AHA) even cites statistics showing that telemedicine can reduce the need for follow-up visits, which translates to health care savings for your company and your employees.

Telemedicine laws in Wisconsin

Because telemedicine services have been growing so quickly, there are still questions about how it should be regulated. The state of Wisconsin has taken steps to implement guidelines to ensure patients receive quality care.

In December 2016, the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board approved new rules for the practice of telemedicine. These rules now require approval from the state legislature and governor. Once passed, the Examining Board’s guidelines will become law.

Proposed rules apply to the way healthcare providers administer telemedicine. It includes requirements like establishing a valid doctor-patient relationship, having a license to practice medicine in Wisconsin, patient privacy protection and holding providers to the same standards of practice and conduct as in-person services.

You can read more about the proposed rules for telemedicine in Wisconsin from the National Law Review.

Are your employees ready for telemedicine?

While there will always be cases in which face-to-face appointments are best, research indicates most people in the U.S. are prepared to accept telemedicine as a component of mainstream health care.

According to a 2015 AHA white paper:

  • 74 percent of U.S. consumers say they would use telehealth services.
  • 76 percent of patients prioritize access to the best care over human interaction.
  • 70 percent of patients are comfortable communicating with providers through text, email or video.

Even if your human resources department isn’t promoting the advantages of telemedicine to employees, the numbers show people are starting to expect and demand this kind of convenience.

When your company can point to helpful telehealth services provided through your health insurance carrier’s wellness offerings, current employees and job candidates will view it as an important value-added feature. That can lead to improved employee satisfaction, increased retention and the ability to better attract top talent.

Contact Security Health Plan today or call 1–800–622–7790 to find out more about how telemedicine services can benefit your company.