To help combat the rising costs of health care we’re seeing a lot of new consumer tools emerge and growing in popularity.  Services and tools such as telemedicine, healthcare pricing tools, and prescription discount cards.  Some are offered on a stand-alone basis; others are incorporated into the health plans you’re already selling. Because these services are growing in popularity, we thought it was time for a quick update. In this post, we’ll get you up to speed on telehealth.

While there are variations among different telehealth providers, what these services do is give members the ability to visit with a doctor by phone or video conference and receive advice and some prescriptions, if medically necessary. The telehealth company works with a number of family doctors who take the calls and review the members’ symptoms, as long as the symptoms described are minor, the doctors are able to diagnose over the phone. Some of these physicians have their own practices and take calls between seeing patients; others work for the telehealth companies.

Telehealth services are great for acute symptoms like colds or the flu, allergies, sinus infections, urinary tract infections, and more. They’re not, however, meant to replace the family doctor or to be used for more serious conditions.  If prescribing doctor feels your condition cannot be properly diagnosed or treated by phone, they’ll refer you to see an in-person health care provider.  And, telehealth providers will not prescribe controlled substances.

Some of the benefits of calling a doctor with the onset of symptoms of acute illnesses are obvious: you can get diagnosed and start taking medication right away, before it gets worse; it’s faster and more convenient than going to the doctors office or an urgent care center; you don’t have to leave work or home; and, perhaps most importantly, it can save you money. Some plans will charge a consultation fee that may be roughly equivalent to the copayment on a health plan, while others don’t charge any additional fees at all.

There are several ways to offer telehealth services to your clients:

  • You can go directly to the telehealth vendor, but sometimes they prefer to work directly with larger employers
  • Telehealth services often are part of services that are accessed through other plans or memberships, such as with the LIFE Association Memberships that are available with some of the National General Accident &Health plans
  • Or you might find a telehealth service offered by the health insurance company or provider networks

However you choose to promote these services to your clients, the goal is to provide them an affordable alternative to doctor office visits or urgent care centers and. And for some employer-based plans, this can help reduce claims costs.

One final point: this type of benefit is new for many consumers, so it may not be obvious to them why they would want to use such a service. This means that there may be a learning curve – you may need to tell them and remind them again of the benefits. Be persistent; this valuable benefit option can help offset the costs of the High Deductible Health Plans you’re recommending, and will help those plans look a lot more palatable.