Despite the potential of telemedicine to replace in-person doctor visits, we have found that the utilization rate of telemedicine is a small fraction of all in-person visits. To better understand why, we looked at several possible reasons and found one major road block.
Most telemedicine programs require an average cost to the employee (co-pay) of $40 per telemedicine visit. The average cost of an ER visit for an issue potentially treatable by telemedicine is about $900. An urgent care visit is typically around $155 and a visit to a primary care provider is around $114. Meanwhile, the average group medical office visit copay is $30. So, it’s no wonder employees choose to go to their in-person primary care physician. If they’re going to have to pay more for telemedicine, they might as well go see their doctor. Right?
So, what would happen if we offered telemedicine to employees with no out-of-pocket cost?
According to a recent telemedicine vendor analysis, utilization rates are four times higher when there is no employee co-pay for telemedicine than when there is a $40 employee co-pay. In other words, the fastest way for employers to unlock the potential claims savings from offering telemedicine is to offer it to employees with no co-pay.
Look at the numbers.
The average patient, needing primary care, goes to see a doctor in person, in an office, urgent care clinic or hospital emergency room, 2.5 times per year. As many as 15% of these annual in-person visits could be replaced by telemedicine visits – meaning that the medical issues that prompt these visits are appropriate for diagnosis and treatment over the phone or internet. Some examples of medical issues that can be addressed using telemedicine include the common cold, bronchitis, urinary tract infections, skin rashes, allergic reactions, etc.
Telemedicine has the potential to dramatically lower health care costs for U.S. employers. But, employees won’t likely be quick to adopt telemedicine unless there is no out-of-pocket cost. Plus, it’s new and different and employees don’t yet know which medical issues are appropriate for telemedicine. With a little education, employers can tap into the savings and your employees can experience the convenience of telemedicine.