More and more businesses are offering telehealth services as an employee benefit

Large companies are increasingly including services like telemedicine in employee benefits packages, according to a new survey from the National Business Group on Health. But do such offerings actually help reduce healthcare costs from an employer perspective?

telehealth, telemedicine, doctor, computer, physician

Telehealth is no longer an anomaly — it’s becoming ubiquitous, even among large companies.

A new study from the National Business Group on Health took a closer look at the healthcare benefits big businesses are offering their employees. Called the “Large Employers’ 2018 Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey,” it was conducted among 148 employers across various industries in May and June 2017. Combined, the employers provide coverage to over 15 million employees and their dependents.

Sponsored Post

Physician Targeting Using Real-time Data: How PurpleLab’s Alerts Can Help

By leveraging real-time data that offers unprecedented insights into physician behavior and patient outcomes, companies can gain a competitive advantage with prescribers. PurpleLab®, a healthcare analytics platform with one of the largest medical and pharmaceutical claims databases in the United States, recently announced the launch of Alerts which translates complex information into actionable insights, empowering companies to identify the right physicians to target, determine the most effective marketing strategies and ultimately improve patient care.

Nearly all — 96 percent — of the respondents said they plan to make telehealth services available as an employee benefit. Fifty-six percent will offer telebehavioral health services in 2018.

As far as employees’ use of telemedicine, almost 20 percent of respondents said they’re seeing utilization rates of 8 percent or more.

The increase in telehealth offerings could be an indication of companies looking to decrease healthcare benefit costs.

Employers believe the total cost of healthcare per employee this year is approximately $13,482 (including premiums and out-of-pocket costs for employees). In 2018, that amount is expected to rise to $14,156. Although businesses will cover about 70 percent of those costs, employees will shoulder the remaining 30 percent.

“Employers are recognizing that traditional cost control techniques alone aren’t able to reduce costs to the point where they are no longer a drain on the bottom line,” National Business Group on Health president and CEO Brian Marcotte noted in a statement.

Companies are also looking to ACOs as a means to decrease costs. Approximately 21 percent of survey participants said they will promote ACOs next year. And an additional 26 percent are considering offering them in 2020.

Value-based care overall is becoming more popular, too. Nearly 40 percent of employers said they’ve made use of a value-based initiative through which employees receive cost reductions when they actively work to manage chronic conditions.

But are all these initiatives really worth it? And are they actually working?

Maybe not, at least as it relates to telehealth. A recent study in Health Affairs found that while direct-to-consumer telehealth increases access to care, it doesn’t necessarily reduce costs for health plans and employers. Instead, the added convenience of telemedicine visits equates to more visits overall, thereby increasing overall healthcare spending.

Still, at least companies are putting more emphasis on their employees. Through offerings such as telehealth and decision support tools, businesses are seeking to make care more accessible, according to Marcotte.

“One of the most interesting findings from the survey is that employers are focused on enhancing the employee experience,” he said.