How to increase workplace telemedicine engagement

Telehealth Bloomberg

You’d think that virtual health benefits would be adopted quickly by busy employees who don’t have time to get their flu shots, let alone attend annual screenings during office hours.

But no — employee benefit surveys generally point to perks like flexible scheduling, paid sabbaticals and student loan repayments among the benefits highly valued by workers. Will virtual health benefits ever make the list?

Not if you run the survey today. According to Mercer, only 8% of employees at large companies sign up for telehealth. Employers expect high adoption across the organization after implementing a cutting-edge program like virtual health — only to be confounded by the lack of interest.

So why aren’t employees as enthusiastic about telemedicine as their leadership?

Here’s one little-known reason: many companies roll out a direct-to-consumer telehealth app that requires employees to use the app’s provider network. As a result, the employees can’t see their own doctors, and are forced to be seen by someone who doesn’t know their medical history. If they use the service again, they’re connected to yet another unfamiliar clinician. This is why many consumers are willing to drive to their doctor’s office and sit in a waiting room for 30 to 45 minutes.

A more common reason: many employees are unaware of their telemedicine benefits. Workers scanning a new health benefits plan brochure tend to focus on information about deductibles, copays, medication coverage and provider networks – and forget everything else. When their child wakes up with an ear infection four months later, they may not remember the company offers a virtual health program, especially if they’ve never used a televisit before. Even employees at a large company with on-site clinics equipped for telemedicine may be unaware of their options.

The good news is that employees are more motivated to adopt telemedicine once they know it’s available and beneficial — but it has to be the right solution. Here are three tips for upping workplace telemedicine engagement:

Offer consistent and familiar healthcare providers. Instead of conducting virtual visits as standalone experiences with random doctors, employees should be able to receive care from healthcare providers they know. That means using a provider-agnostic virtual health platform that includes hardware, software and connective devices for complete clinical exams. It also helps to create a designated telehealth office or space where employees can engage in virtual visits at work.

Connect the benefits to employee needs. Describe telehealth use cases in plain language. Instead of suffering through a sinus infection, employees can be prescribed medication and pick it up on their way home from work. They can talk to a behavioral health counselor via phone or video, manage chronic conditions with primary care providers or see specialists who aren’t locally available. Brazilian petroleum giant Petrobras uses virtual care to connect their off-coast oil rig workers to mainland hospitals, so they can receive expert medical care without a costly helicopter flight and high co-pay.

Address workers’ compensation issues virtually. Not all workplace injuries are suitable for telemedicine. But a remote service can evaluate a muscle strain or chemical burn, recommend work restrictions or make referrals. A study by Company Nurse — a nationwide nurse triage service for workplace injuries — found 40% of workplace injuries can be addressed with self-care advice, which can reduce medical costs and get employees back to work faster. And while it is useful for the injured workers’ initial treatment, televisits can also be used for follow-up appointments.

Employees may need a helping hand to engage with workplace telemedicine programs. It’s not just a simple matter of increasing visibility and keeping telehealth programs top of mind. The key is offering a virtual care solution that strengthens existing patient-doctor relationships.

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