With consumer-driven health care plans increasing the out-of-pocket contribution for a growing number of employees, employers and their advisers are looking for ways to offset these costs. Consult A Doctor's telephonic program connects employees to a doctor in a matter of minutes, no office visit copay required, just a fee-for-service that is often covered by the employer.

The flexible program can be configured to fit nearly any payment structure the employer would like to set up, and when employees log in to the online member portal they will see how much a phone call will cost them, says Kelly Gregorakis, director of marketing and communications. "Telemedicine is one of the most reasonable, logical, easy-to-implement offerings because of the convenience," says Gregorakis.

In business for approximately six years, Consult A Doctor is not a nurse hotline, but rather a service that, after a short questionnaire to determine if the patient might need a prescription, connects callers directly with a physician. "We've been running numbers on nurse hotlines and how much they cost. A lot of times the problems can't get solved," says Gregorakis. "People just get referred to the local emergency room or they get over-the-counter advice. Our service is unique because as soon as they dial our 800-number they could be speaking with a doctor in about 90 seconds."

Callers who think they might need a prescription are guaranteed to have a doctor in their home state call them back within 30 minutes to three hours. Those that just want to ask for information will be connected to a physician immediately, says Gregorakis. "Nobody gets turned down, no pre-existing conditions apply," she says, adding that participants can add up to five dependents to the plan with no additional cost.


The broker perspective

It's been almost a year since USI Insurance Services started working in partnership with Consult A Doctor, says Robert Reers, regional benefit practice leader for the Northeast. "We saw a need for our clients in terms of access to primary care physicians," he says. "We look at it from a productivity and absenteeism standpoint as well as being able to provide employees with greater access to care."

Originally launched as a direct-to-consumer product, Consult A Doctor expanded its business model after being "inundated with requests" from brokers and employers on how they could offer the program, says Gregorakis.

"Our relationships with brokers are robust," she says, noting that often when they reach out to large employer groups directly the employer will direct them back to their broker. "We get RFIs constantly from brokers that are getting requests from employers saying, 'You have to do something. You have to help us contain these costs.'"


Benefit to clients

In the more than 200,000 consultations since the company was founded there's never been a malpractice claim brought against us the company, says Gregorakis. Consult A Doctor has about a 96% satisfaction rate and is HIPAA and ERISA compliant, she adds.

Even so, USI's Reers says that "when an employer considers making the offering there are some issues that we will typically get our compliance attorney involved with, depending upon the type of plan they offer, how the employees are going to contribute or pay for the services as well as high-deductible type of programs - what type of compliance or ERISA issues may come up with providing these types of services."

Clients typically work directly with Consult A Doctor and Reers has not experienced any service issues. He finds the program works best for self-funded clients, but there is also interest from fully insured employers with a few hundred employees. "It's more of a convenience factor," says Reers. "So it is something that we have more of your law firms, companies that are providing high-end type of services and are very focused in on the productivity of their employees will look at a Consult A Doctor type of offering."

USI is "getting great feedback" from participating clients - including its own 3,000 employees who joined this past January. "We're big believers in implementing things that we see as a value offering to our employers," says Reers. "It's something that we want to make sure that we're doing for our own employee base."

ROI is definitely a factor in clients' satisfaction with the product, says Reers, "but the interest that we're seeing is the greater productivity and providing the access for the employees. There is a convenience factor.

"Many times if an employee is sick they realize very quickly that they're going to need a prescription or they would like something by a physician. And if they needed to schedule an appointment with their own local physician it can take upwards of a week to get that appointment scheduled."

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