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10 ways telemedicine has transformed healthcare in 2020

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It’s hard to find an area of our lives the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t touched. Globally we are seeing rapid pivots to new ways of interacting and how we receive healthcare has changed dramatically as well. There’s been an increased demand for telemedicine and virtual mental healthcare. Benefits managers are heeding calls from employees to expand care for physical and mental health needs.

Within a matter of weeks, physically visiting a doctor’s office or emergency room became a tough decision for many. The fear of the risk of infection prevented many from routine visits, so Americans embraced telemedicine options as a worry-free solution. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic created this surge in telemedicine interest, virtual care was gaining in popularity as a way to help control costs and provide access to care.

Read more: What employers need to know about telehealth services

The transformations in telemedicine have the potential to impact employee benefits for years to come. Here are 10 things to know about telemedicine:

Safety is key: The pandemic is illuminating the role that telemedicine plays in keeping people safe. You are less likely to get sick with COVID-19 if you avoid places where sick people congregate. Employees should not risk exposure at their doctor’s office to get treatment for a simple ear infection or poison ivy rash.

Awareness is growing: More patients than ever are realizing the promise of telemedicine during COVID-19, but some patients don’t know how to use it. Instructive communications from HR or the benefits provider are essential to driving utilization.

Usage is increasing: First Stop Health saw an 86% increase in telemedicine consults from 2019 to 2020. But while COVID-19 consults have increased, patients’ primary concerns are still illnesses such as ear, sinus and urinary tract infections.

Technology is surging: Not long ago, most telemedicine patients dialed a phone number to reach a doctor, but it’s 2020and 81% of people have a smartphone. As a result, most patients are using the First Stop Health mobile app or website to get care.

Services are widening: Telemedicine has grown not only in volume, but also in scope. At-home COVID-19 testing and prescription delivery are among the services now available from some providers, or as an employee benefit from some employers.

Regulations are receding: The CARES Act made changes at the federal level that are affecting delivery of and payment for telemedicine services. Telemedicine HIPAA regulations have been temporarily relaxed, and some states have lifted physician-licensing regulations.

Employers are expanding coverage: Prior to COVID-19, most employers offered telemedicine to full-time employees as part of their benefits plan. But the pandemic has seen nearly half of employers expanding their healthcare benefits.

Mental health is a priority: Nearly half of workers say that work-related concerns have left them burned-out during COVID-19, according to SHRM. The need for virtual mental health counseling is a top priority during anxious times like these.

Costs are a factor: 57% of employers surveyed by First Stop Health in 2020 say that cost savings is a factor when determining healthcare benefits for the following year. Telemedicine is an effective way for employers to save by redirecting healthcare spending away from more expensive options, such as the emergency room or urgent care.

Employees must be delighted: Ultimately, telemedicine providers must deliver an amazing experience to the employees they serve. Telemedicine is a technology that enables healthcare, and as with any 21st-century technology, people expect quick response times and simple user interfaces. When employees have a positive experience, they spread the word to friends, family and colleagues.

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