Removing Barriers from Telemedicine Use

July 28, 2016

First Stop Health

Seeing a doctor when you are sick can be a hassle. First, you have to figure out where to go. Then you have to get there, register, wait, pay, hopefully see a doctor in under an hour or two, and then finally get home via the pharmacy, which hopefully has a drive-thru option.

Now imagine a world where you don’t have to leave your house to access a doctor, you don’t have to wait and you don’t even have to pay a co-pay. (No, you are not in Canada.)

Believe it or not, this world actually exists in the US today. Telemedicine allows patients to access a doctor without leaving home. However, not all telemedicine allows patients to do so at no cost to them, and most telemedicine companies up barriers to access their telemedicine benefit that only serve to discourage usage, which undermines the potential value a telemedicine solution can provide. In fact, only a sliver of Americans (0.25%) who have access to telemedicine have ever used it.   

Barrier #1: Co-pays?

Co-pays were designed to cover some of the cost of seeing a doctor and try to discourage people from seeing a doctor when they didn’t really need to. When you make someone pay for something, they are less likely to use it. But co-pays are not generally high enough to dissuade someone from accessing care from the urgent care, primary care physician or ER. However, when co-pays are charged to a patient prior to letting them initiate a telemedicine consultation, utilization falls precipitously. Why is that?

When you are asking people to try something they have never done before--access care remotely from a physician they don’t know--they are not sure that the outcome will be worth the cost. Even if it is only $45. As a result, they opt to not even try it.

Utilization rates of telemedicine programs with co-pays are notoriously low. When telemedicine is embedded with a health plan, utilization is less than 1% (10 calls per 1,000 employees annually). But it is not only co-pays that discourage utilization. 

Barrier #2: Online registrations

Requiring online registration, or that the patient download a mobile app and register prior to making a consultation, is the second way telemedicine companies discourage utilization. When an employee receives an email or a flyer at open enrollment, amongst the pile of documents they receive, it often gets lost. The app isn’t downloaded, and the registration is not completed.

When an employee gets sick, the last thing they want to do is dig through their open enrollment papers or emails to try to figure out how to access their telemedicine benefit. And even if they do, by the time they get logged in, they are faced with an extensive registration process where they have to create an account, upload all their medical information, input a credit card, and finally request a consultation with a doctor.

In our experience, the vast majority of consultations occur for the first time just by employees calling our toll free number. If they had to pre-register, or figure out which app to download, many of them would have simply gone to an urgent care center to get diagnosed and treated.

Removing barriers combined with engagement is the only way to drive utilization.

Removing Barriers Drives Utilization

 Co-pays, extensive registrations and new technologies discourage usage. To increase utilization, and the corresponding claims savings, telemedicine providers need to remove barriers. Seems like a no brainer, right? Why put up roadblocks if you’re trying to get people to use a service, especially if it’s new? A few simple changes can knock down the roadblocks.

A streamlined, easy-to-access telemedicine service is the only way to drive utilization. When you give people an easy way to access a doctor, without having to jump through any hoops, like pre-registrations and having to download new technology, you create a path for people to try something new.

While most telemedicine companies put up roadblocks to discourage usage, First Stop Health focuses on making accessing telemedicine so simple, all you need to do is dial the phone. By doing this, we are able to achieve utilization rates that are 6 to 10x industry averages. With utilization that high, First Stop Health can drive real convenience and savings in accessing healthcare.

But it is not just removing barriers that drives utilization and savings. 

Educate, Educate, Educate

At First Stop Health, we have cracked the code to driving engagement. Education is the key to success. Engagement programs that will teach employees how, when and why to use their telemedicine benefit. First Stop Health’s cycle to full engagement encompasses health fairs, posters, email engagement campaigns relevant to employees lives right in that season, and making the conversation open, honest, and employee-focused.

Provide a Truly No-Cost Solution for Your Employees

If your telemedicine provider is truly focused on providing value, the solution should more than pay for itself. Even if an employer is paying a PEPM for an employee to use the service, the savings driven from avoided in-person physician visits should always exceed the cost.

When an employer implements a telemedicine solution that has a co-pay, you provide a “cost-saving” service that costs nearly as much as the old solution did (average co-pay cost is around $40 anyway, so a telemedicine company with a $40 to 50 co-pay really doesn’t save the employee anything). You’re providing something that seems great at first, but no one uses it.

First Stop Health works with companies. We don’t just sell a service and hope the HR team can figure it out. As a partner, we work with HR to help educate employees in order to drive engagement — the more engaged your employees the higher the utilization and the more savings in avoided healthcare claims are generated.

Originally published Jul 28, 2016 1:30:00 PM.