Why Telemedicine Deserves a Place at the Employee Benefits Table

Telemedicine and health care concept with a young man and a doctor on computer screen

The COVID pandemic forced a lot of changes to healthcare and employee benefits. Among them was a new focus on telemedicine, a more tech-centered approach to healthcare that facilitated doctor-patient visits over video chat. A few years on, telemedicine appears to be losing some of its luster. Yet it still deserves a place at the employee benefits table.

Although telemedicine utilization has declined somewhat since its peak at the height of the pandemic, it is still being utilized more frequently than it was prior to COVID. Not only that, both clinicians and patients express satisfaction with it. Combine their satisfaction with the reality that telemedicine saves money, and you have a winning combination. Employees deserve the opportunity to at least look at a healthcare plan that allows less expensive telemedicine visits.

Telemedicine by the Numbers

The CDC reports that telemedicine utilization among office-based physicians jumped to 86.5% from 2019 to 2021. Utilization among medical specialists seems to be more pronounced compared to GPs and family doctors. Nonetheless, telemedicine utilization has been up across the board since COVID.

Here are some noteworthy stats from the CDC:

  • 27.4% of medical specialists utilize telemedicine for at least 50% of their patient visits.
  • 76.7% of primary care physicians report being able to provide similar quality via telemedicine.
  • 73.1% of medical specialists report being able to provide similar quality be a telemedicine.

Most of the declines since the height of the pandemic are found among primary care physicians. At the point of the last CDC survey, approximately 53.9% utilized telemedicine for fewer than 25 percent of their visits. An additional 27.9% utilized it for 25%-49% of the visits while 14.7% used telemedicine for at least 50% of their visits.

CDC data indicates that there is some variation among specialties in terms of the extent to which they utilize telemedicine. Yet all of the numbers point to a clear fact: telemedicine continues to be a strong option even as the COVID pandemic fades into history.

Adding the Option to Health Insurance

Circling back to employee benefits, the fact that telemedicine remains a popular option suggests that it should be included in health insurance plans. At this point, there is no valid reason not to include it.

Telemedicine is ideal for primary care. Think about it. Most primary care visits entail little more than a brief conversation between patient and clinician. There are no diagnostic tests. There are no procedures for which the patient needs to be in the office. Doctor and patient can have their conversation over video chat just as easily as meeting face-to-face.

More Cost Effective and Efficient

The bottom line is that telemedicine is more cost effective and efficient. Clinicians and patients both benefit from it. As for employers, they should be asking their brokers about telemedicine options. BenefitMall, a Dallas general agency with access to more than a hundred carriers, says that telemedicine is not yet the de facto standard among insurance carriers. However, more of them are adding it to their coverage.

Brokers can also discuss self-insurance with their clients. Under a self-insurance scenario, employers are free to negotiate all sorts of services and rates with healthcare providers. They can include telemedicine in their health plans, recommending that employees use clinicians within a predetermined network that utilizes telemedicine.

At least some of the changes forced on healthcare by the COVID pandemic were good ones. Bringing telemedicine to the forefront is just one of these. Telemedicine deserves a place at the employee benefits table, at least as an option.