If you build a great telemedicine program, will they come?
That’s the question at the heart of workplace telehealth. Just as Kevin Costner erected a baseball field that lured out the ghosts of dead baseball heroes in Field of Dreams, many companies offer onsite virtual care solutions in the hope employees will use them. There’s just one problem: staff tend to ignore them. National Business Group on Health’s Large Employers’ Health Plan Design Survey found that while 90 percent of large companies offered telemedicine benefits in 2016, only 3 percent of their employees used it.
The cost savings in workplace telehealth are obvious. Staff can receive care while they’re at work, reducing absenteeism; they can also get treated faster before they infect coworkers or their condition becomes more serious. They pay fewer urgent care fees while the company reduces their overall benefit cost. It’s not surprising that a Towers Watson study found telehealth had the potential to generate $6 billion in annual healthcare cost savings for U.S. employers.
So if corporate leaders can see the benefits in virtual health, why can’t their employees? There are two primary reasons:
- Many employees don’t know they have telehealth options. Navigating the full scope of a complex health benefits package can be time-consuming for busy workers, especially those beginning a new job. Often they slide their new insurance cards in their wallets and ignore the details. When they do get sick, they likely don’t know or remember that telemedicine coverage is available – even if their workplace has a virtual clinic or kiosk onsite. They may also not know they can use telemedicine after hours.
- Employees don’t like being forced to see unfamiliar providers. Often workplaces will offer a Direct-To-Consumer telehealth app that requires employees to use their provider network – which means the employee sees a stranger who’s disconnected from their medical history. A survey conducted by One Medical Group found more than half of 1,500 workers would be more likely to use a telemedicine service if it involved their healthcare provider. Employees want virtual care from someone they trust and feel comfortable with.
4 Steps to Effective Virtual Care at Work
At a glance, the “If you build it, he will come” promise seems to have worked only in Field of Dreams – not workplace telemedicine. So how can companies persuade their staff to join the virtual care revolution?
- Use an agnostic solution for continuity of care. Workplace telehealth should be integrated into the employee’s medical journey, rather than isolated as a standalone experience. That includes using a provider-agnostic platform with hardware, software and connective data-driven devices that can enable comprehensive clinical exams.
- Explore utilization possibilities. Maybe some employees would like counseling or stress management training. Employees with chronic conditions can send blood pressure readings or other vital signs to their PCP’s office, reducing their number of appointments. Staff can receive faster care during the winter flu season, while workplaces in remote areas may be able to connect their staff to city specialists.
- Use telehealth for workman’s compensation issues. Injuries like neck or back strains or minor burns can often quickly be assessed through virtual care – reducing organizational costs and lost productivity. Company Nurse found 38 percent of workplace injuries can be addressed with self-care advice, no medical visits required. Providers can evaluate injury severity and make referrals or report work restrictions to supervisors.
- Market to employees. Leaders must drive the virtual care conversation from the top down. Signage, reminders on employee portals, newsletter testimonials and other content can educate your staff on the services available and their clinical value. Address any privacy concerns and walk them through the virtual care visit process to make sure they’re comfortable.
In other words, telemedicine and the Field of Dreams approach may have something in common after all. Workplace leaders just need to build a telemedicine program that employees actually like and help them understand that it can help them stay healthier on the job and enjoy greater work-life balance. If they do, workers are far more likely to show up and play ball.