Alvin Healthcare-Tango Card partner to reward telehealth visits

At a time when telemedicine is increasingly going mainstream, key industry players are joining forces to beef up their service offerings. One such recent example involves the pairing of Alvin Healthcare’s national telehealth platform, which includes Teladoc, with Tango Card, a provider of digital rewards and incentives.

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Ann Mond Johnson, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, believes more partnerships or consolidation are on the way. She cites two notable acquisitions at the end of April that include telehealth provider American Well buying acute care telehealth specialist Avizia and InTouch Health buying Reach Health, both of which are telehealth tech platforms.

Her sense about Alvin Healthcare is that the company is pursuing a creative approach that involves a card-activated, membership service sold in unusual venues such as truck stops that appeals to various consumers in different settings.

“What's interesting about that is this whole notion of meeting people where they are,” she says. “People don’t want to go to the doctor’s office, and employers certainly don’t want their employees to go to the doctor's office if it's something that can be resolved by clicking a picture and sending it to the dermatologist.”

While as many as 71% of employers with at least 500 employees report that their employees have access to telemedicine, only 7% of eligible employees on average used the service at least once, according a new Mercer survey. Also, the National Business Group on Health found that 52% of 170 large employers recent polled believe virtual care will play a significant role in how health care is delivered in the future.

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“We’re seeing telemedicine playing a very important part in many employers’ healthcare strategy in addressing acute care needs more rapidly,” reports Bill Lown, a principal in Mercer’s national total health management specialty group.

Alvin Healthcare’s new Hello Alvin prepaid card provides virtual access to a professional, board-certified doctor and 24-hour nurse line on Tango Card’s digital rewards and incentives platform. Card holders can e-mail a primary care physician, specialist, dentist, psychologist or psychiatrist. It's also possible to arrange a follow-up call or virtual visit with a nurse, though 92% of all of Teladoc interactions are handled on the first call or virtual visit.

Joey Truscelli, co-founder of Hello Alvin, questions the logic behind waiting around for hours in urgent care or the emergency room and paying three or four times the amount for cases that can be commonly addressed in the comfort of one’s home. “We believe in talking to a professional rather than trying to Google your symptoms,” he says.

Most card carrying patients are using Teladoc’s smartphone app vs. e-mail or text capabilities, according to Truscelli. He says the FaceTime and Snapchat apps have made people more accustomed to having virtual visits with a doctor.

Hello Alvin’s prepaid program offers a $100 annual subscription and is about to add a one-time usage fee of $69 with access to a 30-day nurseline. Employers could pick up that cost or employees could earn a card based on their rewards and incentive program. It could have a particularly strong appeal for employers with high-deductible health plans or businesses with fewer than 50 employees that don’t provide healthcare benefits.

“It's a time-saver for the employer,” Truscelli says.

Noting how Tango's employee-rewards catalog is loaded with blue-chip brands across a number of popular consumer products, Truscelli says a healthcare tool with 24/7 access to doctors at an affordable price is invaluable while staying healthy is certainly a top priority.

The prepaid telehealth card is being touted as a talent-management tool that can be used to attract and retain full-time, part-time, temporary, contract and freelance staffers as a stand-alone incentive, reward or perk. The prepaid telehealth card also can be given as gifts to children who go off to college.

Telemedicine is seen as invaluable to individuals living or working in remote locations or outside of larger metropolitan areas who tend to have fewer options, according to Lown. He believes brokers and advisers need to reinforce this point to employer clients that fit this description.

Mindful that utilization tends to be low, Lown cites several possible culprits. They include the fact that these services aren’t in the forefront of employee minds, old habits like face-to-face doctor visits are hard to break and rising out-of-pocket costs are still a concern.

To help spike interest in telemedicine, Mercer in many cases has recommended to employer clients that it be made completely free to employees or at least offer an incentive to those who fill out a preauthorization form up front. Another tactic is to include employee testimonials when promoting these services.

In addition, a broadening of service offerings is expected to help spread the word. For example, virtual visits are being extended to behavioral health and subspecialty areas such as dermatology and pediatrics, Lown notes.

Telehealth also can help instantly erase the stigma associated with people seeking mental health because they no longer have to be self-conscious about checking into a waiting room full of other patients, Johnson notes. She says clinicians appreciate this method as well because seeing patients in the context of their home allows them to be more effective.

As employers provide more services to their employees, Johnson believes benefit brokers could be helpful in creating criteria by which they can evaluate and confirm for employer clients that there’s a method to evaluating whether services make sense or are clinically sound.

She cites a recent ATA study that focused on practice guidelines relating to telemental health services endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association. “You can't use technology to do something that is fundamentally not a great service,” she explains.

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