Despite its immense popularity as a 2021 employee benefit trend, telehealth is not a new concept in healthcare. For decades, telehealth and telemedicine options have been expanding with both healthcare providers and health insurance carriers offering solutions from patient portals and nurse hotlines to virtual doctor visits.
Telehealth not only appeals to employees who seek simple, non-emergency care from the comfort of their own homes, but also to employer-sponsored health plans that are invested in providing quality care to members at more affordable prices.
This year, the coronavirus pandemic with its stay-at-home orders, masking mandates and social distancing, boosted telehealth activity by more than 41 percent between March and April.
Nearly all employers say they will offer telehealth services in 2021, according to the Business Group on Health survey, while 91 percent of employers say they will also offer virtual appointments for mental health.
As you consider which benefits you will offer employees this year, you will want to identify common types of telehealth benefits available in the market and choose an option that best meets your specific needs.
Primary Provider Group or Healthcare System
It has become commonplace for healthcare systems (Aurora, Ascension, Froedert, ThedaCare, etc.) to have telehealth integrated into their care model.
Telehealth has been shown to reduce the number of visits to the emergency room and urgent care, while strengthening the efforts of primary care models because people have more efficient access to a doctor and don’t put off a visit.
The primary care model asserts that people who get routine checkups are generally more engaged in their health, have better chronic care management, identify healthcare concerns earlier and are more likely to be referred to specialists when needed. This approach allows providers to diagnose diseases while they are in the early stages and treatment is more effective and less costly.
Patients of certain healthcare systems can access their records and appointments through a secure portal as well as send and receive messages regarding ongoing treatment. Patients can also schedule virtual visits with their primary care providers or specialists.
Some systems also include a 24/7 telemedicine option where the patient is “seen” by a staff physician via a secure app or website through video or phone call for minor health concerns such as nasal congestion, sprains or strains, sinus problems, urinary problems, etc.
Independent Telemedicine Companies
There are many independent telemedicine companies that staff their own physicians and offer care on a fee for service basis with or without health insurance. Typically, these services are available 24/7 and can be used for a wide range of issues, including nonemergency medical concerns, dermatological conditions and mental health conditions, with some including ongoing therapy sessions.
These services can be used as standalone benefits or many of them can be added to insurance plans for greater continuity of care and recordkeeping. As healthcare continues to evolve, so do these services with some markets seeing new and innovative care options.
Mental Health and Well-Being
In addition to other telehealth services, employers say they will expand access to virtual mental health and well-being in 2021. The main goals are to create a stopgap for provider shortages, reduce wait times and debunk the stigma associated with mental illness.
More than 69 percent of employers say they will provide access to online mental health support resources, including apps, videos and articles, according to a Business Group on Health survey, and 50 percent of those employers say they will run anti-stigma campaigns internally to encourage employees to get help.
Mental telehealth options are also available as standalone programs with online platforms accessed via website or mobile app, like moodgym, betterhealth and headspace. Additionally, many Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) offer in-person and over-the-phone mental health counseling.
What’s the right option for my team?
Employee benefits aren’t one size fits all, so telehealth options aren’t either. The good news is that you have many options to consider and the ability to customize to meet your team’s needs. We encourage you to consult with one of our Strategic Risk Advisors to choose the best employee benefits for your group. In the meantime, check out our guide on Building a Better Benefits Package for some great ideas.
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