Out of a global crisis came new technology and new pathways to connected care for employers and primary care practices. Many companies expanded health benefits during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, from employee assistance programs (EAPs) to telehealth providers, and it looks like many of these benefits are here to stay. A September 2021 report from employee benefits consultancy Mercer shows that “one-fifth of employees used telemedicine for the first time during the pandemic, and another 23% increased their usage.” The 2021 Mercer “Health on Demand” report, which includes responses from 14,000 workers around the world, says that nearly 75% of employees have used telehealth and most will continue to do so.
Additionally, an August 2021 report by the Business Group on Health, the 2022 Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey, gathered opinions this year from 136 employers covering more than 8 million employees and one of the most significant increases in employee usage and adoption was in connected health. According to the survey, 94 percent of large businesses are anticipating an increase in medical services due to delayed care. Some 91 percent are concerned about long-term mental health effects of the pandemic, and 76 percent expect chronic care management needs to increase.
Another major impact on the expansion of telehealth programs during the pandemic: Insurance providers cover virtual visits in much the same way they do in-person doctor’s office visits. Previously, one of the most significant barriers to adoption was limited or unclear reimbursement for telehealth and other virtual health services. However, because emergency measures included virtual visits with doctors and other healthcare providers, states are passing laws to permanently cover telehealth in the long term. All but seven states now have some requirements for how commercial insurance providers should cover telehealth.
Telehealth is no longer a perk or a convenience; it’s a solid advantage for employers and for primary care providers. Employers can ensure that employees have access to safe and effective healthcare around the clock as well as save on expensive emergency room or urgent care visits. PCPs can offer the wraparound care and high-touch follow up that a telehealth provider linked within its network can provide.
Even though telehealth has become so prevalent, not all telehealth providers are created equally. User experience and satisfaction, case resolution, connection to a patient’s primary care provider, follow-up after a virtual visit, and utilization rates which impact cost savings for employers are all separators for telehealth companies. For example, typical telehealth utilization before the pandemic was between five and seven percent. According to McKinsey & Company, “after an initial spike to more than 32 percent of office and outpatient visits occurring via telehealth in April 2020, utilization levels have largely stabilized, ranging from 13 to 17 percent across all specialties.”
How to Evaluate Your Telehealth Provider
While telehealth shows great promise for improving access to health care and managing costs, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reminds employers that these benefits are not automatic and that “employers should be prepared to do some digging to see how well telehealth programs are working.”
Employers should not only evaluate and track employee adoption and utilization rate of telehealth services (along with employee satisfaction and Net Promoter Score or NPS data following telehealth visits), but should also evaluate and ask for specific benchmarks from telehealth providers during the selection or re-evaluation process.
Outside of NPS, employers can survey employees about how comfortable they feel using the telehealth service, about how quickly they were able to get an appointment, what their wait time was after virtual check-in, how many issues were resolved during the first visit, and how many follow-up visits were needed. This will give you an idea of the breadth and depth of the telehealth care your employees are receiving, and signal any red flags early on in the adoption process.
When evaluating a telehealth service, whether direct or in partnership with existing services, there are specific questions you can ask to assist with (1) the rollout of new services during open enrollment and (2) what you and your employees can expect with regards to your service level agreement with a vendor. Here are just a few examples:
- How do you protect personal health information (i.e.: end-to-end encryption)?
- What is your utilization rate this year versus the previous year?
- What is your average NPS (and how does it compare to industry benchmarks)?
- What is your follow up rate?
- How do you handle chronic, specialty and urgent care visits?
- What types of integrations do you offer?
- Can employees or patients schedule visits through the platform?
- Will employees or patients need to provide consent to receive telehealth on the platform itself?
- Do employees or patients need to download an app to have a telehealth visit?
- Where are health records stored and are they accessible should an in-person visit be required?
- Will the employee or patient have to pay two copayments (one for telehealth and one for in-person follow up) if the virtual visit doesn’t address their concern?
What Your Telehealth Provider Should Be Able to Tell You
Using our own connected care services and partnerships as an example, there are more specifics you can ask for before choosing a telehealth provider for open enrollment and we’ll share just three examples here.
Case resolution. With CareHive’s employer partnerships, over 80% of healthcare cases are resolved by video call, and 98% of cases that start with CareHive achieve full resolution on the CareHive platform via video, lab visit, or house call. Case resolution is an important indicator of effectiveness – many telehealth providers escalate unnecessarily to urgent care centers or ERs which drives encounter pricing up.
Cost reduction and savings. In the first six months of our contract with a leading retail chain — serving both corporate and store employees — CareHive reduced costly emergency room use by double digits. We saved this employer 43% on their healthcare costs, and because this organization self-funds their healthcare, all savings went directly to the bottom line.
Standard reporting. In our employer partnerships, we include automated employee satisfaction surveys, monthly engagement and employee satisfaction reporting with NPS and quarterly claim and financial impact analysis. We act on data and transparent reporting in these partnerships supports benefits enrollment teams.
Finally, telehealth can absolutely improve employee satisfaction and retention, but only if the provider you choose can offer the level of care that matches what employees and patients expect from in-person visits. For example, many telehealth services are available 24/7, but some can only address a small percentage of health issues without referring patients to in-person visits or expensive alternatives. Offering a telehealth option as part of open enrollment can be a huge benefit for your employees, but only if it works to meet their needs and addresses their concerns conveniently, privately, and successfully.