Denver Business Journal: More companies are offering telehealth services. So why aren't employees tuning in?
Telehealth services are also quickly expanding. What started with virtual doctor visits to diagnose visual issues with a patient has grown into other sectors, like behavioral-health care and treatment for chronic conditions. Denver-based MyStrength.com, for instance, began reaching out to insurers and health care organizations a few years ago to offer programs for patients to improve their mental health. MyStrength's platform is different than a traditional telehealth service that connects patients with a physician. Rather, it uses evidence-based applications and activities to connect patients with behavioral health services.
More companies are offering telehealth services. So why aren’t employees tuning in? Aug 29, 2018, 2:45pm MDT
More employers are offering telemedicine services to their employees, but utilization of those services is low, according to a new survey.
The increasing demand for telemedicine services centers on an employees’ desire for more convenient doctor appointments and lower out-of-pocket costs.
And employers are hearing those demands loud and clear. According to a new survey by human resources consulting firm Mercer, 71 percent of employers with at least 500 employees offer some type of telemedicine service to employees.
The hope for those employers is that the service can cut down on unnecessary trips to the ER or urgent care, and in return, lower overall health care costs.
But here’s the problem: Employees actually need to use the service to accomplish that — and that’s not happening.
According to the Mercer survey, only 7 percent of eligible employees signed up for the service, on average, used telemedicine at least once.
Copay cost could play into that equation. Employers with utilizations rates of 10 percent or higher had a median copay of $15 for services, according to the survey. Groups with utilization rates of 6 percent or less had a median co-pay of $30. Employers that charge nothing for telemedicine visits didn’t see a significant jump in utilization (11 percent).
Quality of the telehealth program also needs to be taken into consideration. Of the employers surveyed, 57 percent used the telemedicine service through their contracted health plan. The 15 percent that contracted a specialty vendor saw twice as much employee participation on average (6 percent vs. 12 percent).
Beth Umland, director of research for Mercer’s health business, wrote that communication and education — from offering real-life examples on how telehealth benefitted a peer to using an employer’s well-being portal to promote the service — is the biggest way to up utilization.
“If there is an incentive program in place, consider a way to reward members for completing the telemedicine pre-use application,” she added.
As Colorado’s population has grown over the years, health systems have offered more telehealth-enabled offices. Last year, Peter Banko, Centura Health CEO, told Denver Business Journal that customers who face higher insurance premiums and deductibles are willing to change how they are seen and where they see their health professionals for even small differences in cost.
Colorado telehealth companies, however, are acknowledging an issue with utilization rates of their services.
Kevin McGarvey, founder of Boulder-based Hippo Health, is now offering his company’s app to small businesses, which can pass some savings to their employers. Hippo Health is an app that gives subscribers unlimited connections — from text messages to phone calls — to board-certified emergency physicians for a monthly fee.
He acknowledges utilization by early subscribers is “relatively low” and is sparking changes at the company to reverse that trend.
“I think the problem is that standard telehealth today is a siloed-off service,” he told Denver Business Journal. “Patients at the end of the day trust a physician
who they see in person, as opposed to an anonymous physician through some kind of plan.”
McGarvey said his company is actively working to develop a better way for physicians to connect with their existing patients in order to bridge that gap of trust.
He also acknowledged that as telemedicine technology continues to improve, utilization rates should naturally go up.
Telehealth services are also quickly expanding. What started with virtual doctor visits to diagnose visual issues with a patient has grown into other sectors, like behavioral-health care and treatment for chronic conditions.
Denver-based MyStrength.com, for instance, began reaching out to insurers and health care organizations a few years ago to offer programs for patients to improve their mental health. MyStrength’s platform is different than a traditional telehealth service that connects patients with a physician. Rather, it uses evidence-based applications and activities to connect patients with behavioral health services.
The company announced Wednesday it has received a $1.2 million investment from The Zoma Foundation to expand its digital maternal health services to help moms with perinatal mood anxiety disorders. MyStrength President and Co-Founder Matt Sopcich said the investment allows his company to grow its evidence-based applications and extend treatment technologies to populations in need.
Sopcich said utilization of his company’s app has varied, but the biggest barrier is getting users to initially adopt it. Initial adoption rates of employees who have used the app at least once have ranged from single digits, he said, to as much as 50 percent.
But once a subscriber adopts the platform, engagement has been strong, with more than half continuing to use the service for up to 10 sessions. Of that group, 20 to 30 percent have interacted with the app for up to a year, Sopcich said.
To hit that initial adoption, Sopcich said employers needs to create a culture where employee health is a reoccurring topic of discussion and where telehealth services are well promoted.
“Individuals are going to be more engaged with digital services going forward, but it takes time for the market to understand and experience these new types of services,” he said.
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