Informed Employees Use Telemedicine as a Win-Win

This article is not intended to provide medical advice or to endorse any particular service.  The purpose of this blog entry is to raise awareness that telemedicine services exist and of the potential value they offer to employers and associates alike. The use of telemedicine may help your associates stay healthier and miss less time at work. The reader is encouraged to seek more detailed information from their licensed insurance agent and/or licensed health care professional.

So, you are not feeling well and may want to see your doctor.  The problem is, you are sick today and your primary physician is booked solid for two weeks.  What options do you have for getting help, for getting a much-needed prescription?  More and more, traditional doctors’ offices are referring sick patients to other facilities.  They cannot risk a reputation of their office as a source of spreading any infection, not just Covid-19. Being in the medical service business, the staff must be protected from disease for obvious reasons too numerous to mention.  Literally, most doctors’ offices only want to see you when you are well. Can you blame them?

Common options to the physicians' office are the emergency room, urgent care and drug store clinics.  These all have their proper function and place.  Let’s consider each in summary, before presenting a viable fourth option that most people fail to consider. Hint: Telemedicine

The emergency room may be the place of last resort, but is your best option when you have a life threatening or life changing condition.  It is the most-costly for sure.  Many insurance plans either have a high copay or require you to pay out of pocket to the extent of your annual deductible.  That is frequently as high as $5,000.  Ouch!  If you have a sinus infection, a trip to the emergency room could be a very expensive visit to get a Z-Pack.  What’s more, you may be sitting in the waiting room next to someone who is about to be tested for the Covid-19 virus.  Don't end up needing more than a Z-Pack for your time and trouble... and don't forget the out of pocket cost.  Your ER fees will also entitle the designated driver, who accompanies you to have the same opportunity... a real twofer.

The emergency room should be used as a gateway for full admission into the hospital or to get help when a life in in danger..  If that is not your intent or expectation, you may want to consider other options.

The urgent care center is more like a lite emergency room.  They see people who have non-life-threatening trauma or need attention due to illness.  While typically less expensive than emergency room visits, the urgent care is typically not inexpensive.  A wise employer may encourage associates to visit their local urgent care center to know what services they offer, hours of operation and plan ahead.  Verify coverage with medical insurance including the copay, so there are no surprises. The time to determine where to go and under what circumstances is not under the pressure of an active medical situation.

While urgent care centers are good and valuable, you may still find yourself sitting in a waiting room with people who are more ill than you.  The cost of the visit applied to a Z-Pack is less than an emergency room but still likely more than other options.

Clinics operating within drug stores are an excellent option.  They are typically administered professionally by nurse practitioners who can legally write prescriptions that you can conveniently have filled in this one-stop shop.  They can also evaluate your condition to determine if additional testing is warranted for such things as Covid-19 and strep throat.  The cost is reasonable, but you still have potential exposure to others, who are waiting to be seen for infectious conditions, not only in the waiting area, but also in the store itself.  The last thing you need is to go into the clinic with a sinus infection and leave with a case of something worse.  So, what else can you do?

An underused and often misunderstood benefit to many group health plans is telemedicine.  These options are commonly known by different names, but all pretty much do the same thing.  Make a phone call to a provider from the comfort, safety and privacy of your home. Conveniently, discuss your condition with a licensed medical professional.  Copay amounts are reasonable, even zero in some plans.  Calling a telemedicine service also saves you from transportation time or costs, loss of work time, child care issues, wasted time sitting in a waiting room and perhaps more importantly, not being exposed to the unknown illness of others.

Employers typically need to do a better job in promoting the telemedicine benefits that are already included in their group medical plan. It's often overlooked due to lack of understanding. Telemedicine is an excellent option that many have never even tried, largely because employers have failed to properly communicate the value.  However, with the fears of a significant population concerning the Covid-19 virus, telemedicine options are rapidly gaining acceptance and even preference for obtaining medical assistance without having to wait in line.  Telemedicine is available for a wide variety of non-emergency medical conditions from the common cold, flu and fever to insect bites, pink eye and more.  Other non-emergency services include mental health and dermatology.  Your group health insurance agent can provide details.

When employers promote the use of telemedicine for non-emergency conditions, they encourage their associates to receive medical help sooner, avoid unnecessary exposure to the illnesses of others, reduce out of pocket expense, save time and minimize the overall experience cost of the group.  Employees come back to work faster and have a more positive view of their benefit options.  This is a win-win for employers and their associates.  We need win-win more than ever today!

If your group health plan does not include telemedicine, it may be a good idea to discuss it with your insurance agent. If it does, you might want to take a quick survey to determine the level of awareness in your company.  Then create an internal campaign to encourage the appropriate use of telemedicine services.  The best aspect of that campaign will be your associates sharing positive experiences and personally recommending it to others.

Remember, telemedicine is typically available 24/7/365 often to all members of the household, regardless if they are actually covered as dependents on the group health plan.  If your child is like mine, they unexpectedly wake you up crying with a high fever in the middle of the night. Previously, the only options were a mad dash to the emergency room or toughing it out until the doctor's office opened. Neither was ever a good solution.  Now you have telemedicine and 24-hour pharmacies.  Make the phone call from your home and speak with a licensed medical professional.  Get the prescription from your nearby pharmacy.  Rock your child.  Go back to sleep!

I hope that helps.
- Bob

Virtual physician sites, not a recommendation.
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Click here for a more detailed description of when it is advised to seek help in the emergency room and in an urgent care center.