Telemedicine – Is It Up to the Hype?

When telemedicine hit the benefit scene my first thought was, “this will be a homerun.”

For years, nurse lines were the go-to for late night medical advice – but the superficial decision matrix resulted in extraordinarily limited use, and at $1 per employee per month (PEPM) left many employers questioning the value.

Along comes the idea of a face-to-face online appointment with a real doctor who can diagnose and prescribe medications or refer to an appropriate care level. I thought “perhaps this is a new gateway or a more efficient way to triage care” and at around $49 per visit I thought uptake would be rapid.

I was wrong again as I look at 1–5% employee utilization rates. So what happened?

  1. It isn’t priced correctly. Employers, fearful of spiked costs, usually price telemed at a primary care copay and it is not financially compelling.
  2. Employers pushed back at the PEPM access charges many early telemedicine vendors tried to impose and there is some market hangover.
  3. The registration process is cumbersome and at the time one needs immediate medical attention, it proves to be too daunting to even consider trying it out.
  4. Patients are skeptical of the medical advice they might get, preferring to use a more well-known care option.

Despite these issues I am convinced that telemedicine should take hold. Almost anyone would look to avoid an emergency room visit; being exposed to sundry ailments from other patients in a waiting room, especially when sick, is not optimal; and telemedicine is very economical.

So how to fix it: First – lower the cost and guarantee savings. Second – get employees to sign up and engage before they need care.

If the user experience is simplified and the cost reduced to reflect the savings that employers will realize, people may actually use it and telemedicine can become the new front door to healthcare.

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