Doctors using telemedicine
Employee Benefits

How to Use Virtual Healthcare Technology Appropriately and Efficiently

Barry Fitzpatrick
Barry Fitzpatrick
Vice President - Client Service, Employee Benefits

For many of us, the last 12 months has afforded plenty of opportunity to become more accustomed with using digital technologies for our daily living. Digital technologies and the gig economy are no longer just something we read about in Silicon Valley — they’re now part of our daily work and social experience.

Think about it. We’re now using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and a whole host of other virtual platforms for business meetings, High School AP exams, first grade parent-teacher meetings, music lessons, and our Thursday Happy Hours.

While we’re less likely to engage freelance workers for a lift to the ball park, we are relying on them (and their associated apps) for all kinds of home deliveries — from Amazon packages to breakfast and lunch and on to the dinner groceries.

All of this comfort with digital technology is accelerating the virtual care revolution in the delivery of health services. And, anytime the industry moves this quickly, there will be opportunities for lessons learned. We’re actually seeing that play out today.

What Is Virtual Care?

Virtual care is a broad term, and it incorporates many approaches to using digital technology for healthcare delivery. Telemedicine is more specific and has generally been understood to refer to the use of digital technology for the purposes of acute care triage and the diagnosis of common conditions.

Virtual care goes beyond app-based telemedicine, providing members with access to general medicine, behavioral health services, dermatology, and musculoskeletal care management. Virtual care also can be understood to include remote patient monitoring and health coaching.

How Is Virtual Care Impacting Healthcare?

The acceleration of services and the number of members looking to engage providers in virtual care has been quickly matched by the number of traditional brick-and-mortar providers willing and able to provide (and bill for) virtual care services. This expansion of provider availability could soon be seen as a steady and low-cost way for provider groups to increase their revenue.

In addition to providers offering virtual care access (at the undiscounted price of a standard brick-and-mortar office visit), app-based telemedicine services are rapidly becoming more than just acute care diagnostic services.

We all should know by now that healthcare does not follow economic principals of supply and demand. The act of making more virtual healthcare solutions available to members will not in and of itself reduce cost.

In healthcare program design, it’s up to employers, consultants, and payers to lead the way in creating strategies which drive demand to the appropriate supply.

It’s Time to Review Your Healthcare Strategy

What employers need to consider is how does their virtual healthcare strategy fit into their broader healthcare strategy.

Here are some questions to consider:

  • How does virtual care create an opportunity to reduce per member healthcare costs?
  • What types of virtual care use will drive efficiency vs. redundancies?
  • What telemedicine resources and technology tools are available given my current carrier relationships?
  • What technology tools are needed to bridge the gap between what’s provided today, and where my population health needs reside?
  • How will telemedicine services support my virtual healthcare strategy, and what vendor mix is the right solution?
  • Does my current carrier report package provide enough information to fully understand my financial risks and member use patterns?
  • How will this steer care to the best quality, lowest-cost health providers?

Our Best Advice? Be Proactive!

There will be a lot of discussions over the next year about the virtues of providing a standalone tele-health solution versus carrier provided partnerships. It’s important for all employers to understand that we are all now early adopters of virtual care services. Those who take a proactive approach to understand their claims exposure and begin to employ best practices now will have better trend and experiences.

If you have any questions about this or would like us to evaluate your employee benefits program, let us know!

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