The rapid development of communications technology has had an impact on every aspect of the business world, as companies and employees decentralize more and more. This has led to changes in workflow, management practices, and even in employees’ benefits plans, with more and more businesses looking into telehealth solutions.
The Covid-19 pandemic acted as an accelerant to those already-burgeoning trends; businesses, by necessity, had to spread operations long-distance—which transformed everything about how companies operated. Central offices and set hours have given way to hybrid workplaces, where employees work remotely for part or all of their workweek. Companies benefit from this model by reducing operating costs and expanding their pool of potential employees worldwide. Workers, for their part, benefit from enhanced flexibility and improved work-life balance.
Telehealth has also emerged as a new trend—during the pandemic, and carrying strong in its wake. Patients can now have remote sessions with experts or trusted general practitioners from anywhere! Telehealth solutions don’t just enhance the efficiency of employee health care programs; they also help businesses attract and retain top talent as employees.
So how does telehealth work, and what can telehealth solutions do for you as an employer?
What Is Telehealth?
Telehealth takes health care into the virtual sphere. Providers use the same means a normal business does to keep in touch with remote workers—Zoom, online document filers, scheduling apps, and more—to conduct doctor’s visits remotely.
The “virtual appointment” combines video meetings with remote monitoring and electronic health records. Current technologies allow all of this to take place remotely with a centralized “patient portal” that lets patients access files and schedule visits.
Obviously, telehealth solutions can’t cover every medical issue—some things need face-to-face examination. But it can make visiting the doctor for a good deal of primary care much more efficient, especially for visits during working hours. Telehealth solutions save patients transit time and eliminate office waits, providing quality care remotely. And if a patient feels ill or has a contagious condition, telehealth allows treatment from a distance, limiting exposure.
The process can be new for those accustomed to older forms of medical care. But telehealth’s potential to transform the way your business offers health care is simply too great to ignore.
How Does Telehealth Work?
Telehealth functions similarly to other kinds of remote businesses: it relies heavily on technology to exchange and manage patients’ health care information remotely. Video chat tools allow physicians to conduct virtual visits just like any other meeting, to diagnose and treat more common ailments from afar.
Remote monitors can track heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and even calorie usage. Providers and medical experts can also coordinate and collaborate with each other quickly and easily, exchanging charts and pertinent data instantaneously.
Sometimes, telehealth solutions entail the healthcare provider operating remotely, in a medical van, or similar mode of transportation. This allows them to treat people in remote areas while still having access to records, apps, and personnel based elsewhere. It cuts down on delays considerably while providing enhanced care for patients who might not otherwise access healthcare facilities easily. Online portals then let patients access their files, send messages, and set up prescription refills and appointments on their time.
Telehealth vs. In-Person Visit: Key Differences
Ideally, a telehealth visit shouldn’t differ in any way from an in-person visit—at least in terms of care quality. There are some limitations, however, as well as a few differences with telehealth solutions that patients should understand.
For starters, telehealth cannot address every condition. It’s important to know what does and does not work in this medium. Chronic conditions, for instance—think skin conditions, chronic fatigue, diabetes, Covid-19, and depression or anxiety—can often be addressed with a telehealth visit. You can also conduct post-surgical follow-ups and physical therapy, manage prescriptions, and handle urgent care issues such as stomach pains and mundane colds.
However, more serious issues—such as those requiring emergency service—usually require attention beyond a telehealth visit’s capabilities.
Telehealth providers will help patients set up the relevant apps and software on their devices. Most telehealth visits can be conducted on a phone, tablet, or personal computer but require some software installation or upgrades. As such, this setup usually takes place before the appointment to minimize the chances of a disruption during the visit itself. Visits may also involve technology such as heart monitors, which may need setting up before the session.
Telehealth visits also must maintain the same level of privacy as a traditional in-person visit. Communication must remain limited to the doctor, patient, and perhaps pertinent loved ones such as spouses or children. This means that both the patient and their medical care provider will need to find a quiet space away from others to conduct the visit.
Telehealth, Telemedicine, and Telecare: Are They Similar?
Telehealth solutions are a fairly new—and still evolving—phenomenon. The terminology used to discuss them is similarly evolving. Accordingly, there’s sometimes a bit of confusion regarding how we describe telehealth solutions. Common terms like “telehealth,” “telemedicine,” and “telecare” get thrown around interchangeably in conversation. While the three terms are connected and refer to similar processes, there are subtle differences that businesses interested in these solutions should be aware of.
- Telehealth refers to the entirety of remote medical services, beyond just care. That includes administrative meetings, medical training, and organizational issues, which don’t necessarily directly involve patients.
- Telemedicine is the actual clinical service provided by a telehealth solution. This entails interacting with patients and ensuring that they receive the treatment they need. It also includes tasks like remote monitoring of the patient’s vitals and similar acts of long-distance care.
- Telecare typically refers to the technology that facilitates telehealth and telemedicine. The apps, software, tools, and sensors let health care providers monitor the patient from afar. It can also involve incidental technology, such as fitness applications that help patients keep to an exercise schedule or calendar reminders to take prescription medication.
What Happens During Virtual Doctor Visits
In some ways, a virtual doctor’s visit is no different than an in-person visit to the office. The patient describes symptoms and conditions, and the doctor takes readings of the pertinent vital signs and indicators—including a visual examination of symptoms such as skin conditions—in order to diagnose the condition and prescribe a treatment.
Monitors read blood pressure, heart rate, and similar details. Doctors will brief patients on how to use these devices in order to receive the most accurate medical readings. They can then prescribe the necessary medication and similar recommendations—and even continue monitoring the patient remotely to track condition improvement.
In the event of a recurring condition such as a migraine or chronic pain, telehealth solutions can help record and monitor the patient’s progress over time, comparing their current symptoms to previous ones for better treatment. The same holds true for medical processes like physical and occupational therapy. Therapists can coach patients and monitor them through each session from afar.
Patients can also receive treatment for mental and emotional health in much the same way. Therapists can speak with their patients via video conferencing—or even old-fashioned phone conversations—while prescribing medication and providing other counseling services.
Types of Telemedicine Services and Treatments
Telemedicine offers effective diagnosis and treatment for several medical conditions. But it’s not able to treat every condition, and its limitations are as important to understand as its benefits. The treatment for specific conditions may vary when conducted via telehealth solutions. Some conditions—particularly those requiring emergency services—may still need face-to-face treatment in a hospital or similar facility.
With those limitations in mind, there are still a wide range of telehealth services and treatments that are as efficient and effective as in-person visits. Telehealth services like Doctegrity will typically specify what kinds of services and treatments they provide and how businesses can integrate these options into their overall healthcare plan.
So what does a telehealth service usually cover? And what sorts of conditions and treatments can they effectively address?
Primary Care Telemedicine
Primary care medicine entails the standard doctor’s visits covered by most healthcare plans. It involves routine check-ups and treatment of chronic or lingering conditions, as well as the kinds of issues typically handled by urgent care facilities. That can include but is not limited to the following:
- Skin conditions such as poison ivy, abscesses, lesions, mild burns, cellulitis, allergic reactions, and mild injuries such as bruises and insect bites
- Swollen joints, conditions associated with arthritis, muscle aches, gout, and repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome
- Issues with bowels and digestion, including stomach cramps, diarrhea, acid reflux, and constipation
- Venereal conditions such as STIs and herpes
- Eye irritations and infections, such as pink eye
- Respiratory issues such as coughs and colds, strep throat, tonsillitis, laryngitis, and respiratory infections
- Headaches, dizziness, and vertigo
- Mild gynecological issues, such as yeast infections and menstrual difficulties
In addition, telehealth solutions are often used to treat chronic or recurring conditions where the patient may need treatment for a flare-up or as part of an ongoing regimen. Telehealth sessions can similarly handle prescription medication management, test results, or medical expert consultations.
Mental and Behavioral Telehealth Services
Telehealth solutions can prove extremely effective in dealing with mental and emotional health, as well as behavioral issues. Patients can meet with therapists and counselors—for scheduled or emergency sessions—as well as receive psychiatric diagnoses for prescriptions and similar treatments. Mental and behavioral telehealth services can address a variety of issues, including but not limited to:
- Counseling and therapy for anxiety, depression, trauma, PTSD, and panic disorders
- Childhood and adolescent issues such as bullying, life coaching, and self-image issues
- Counseling for divorce, grief and loss, and similar life circumstances
- Treatment for conditions such as ADHD, OCD, and bipolar disorder
- Career and job-related issues such as stress and burnout
- Substances abuse issues, addiction, and eating disorders
Covid-19 and At-Home Lab Testing
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic meant drastic changes in every aspect of life. Telehealth solutions have proven adept at providing medical care in the wake of the upheaval, in a manner that’s safe, healthy, and doesn’t spread the virus.
In fact, telehealth services as a whole can prove instrumental in slowing the spread of the virus by allowing virtual doctor’s visits that maintain safe distancing protocols. Lingering concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic can lead many patients to avoid important but non-emergency medical care out of fear of transmission.
Telehealth provides an easy solution without affecting the quality and effectiveness of care—while also reducing the spread of Covid-19 and other contagious viruses simply by minimizing non-emergency contact. Treating a condition remotely makes both the patient and the doctor safer.
Similarly, at-home lab testing is now far more feasible thanks to telehealth solutions—like Doctegrity’s SnapTest. There are wearable devices and smartphone apps can send data to be collated and analyzed without the patient coming into a medical facility to take readings. The patient can receive lab test results online, then and discuss the findings with their care provider via a virtual visit. Should a patient need to have samples or readings taken at a medical facility, they can schedule the appointment via app to minimize wasted time.
Reproductive health is one of the most important facets of medicine, and telehealth solutions can address a wide range of reproductive health issues with particular efficiency. The first and most obvious benefit is for patients in rural areas or who may otherwise not be able to reach a medical facility for routine prenatal care.
An OB/GYN or similar practitioner can treat patients remotely and ensure that pregnancies proceed as normal. This is critical, as studies show that remote or low-income women often forego health care due to an inability to readily access a healthcare facility. Telehealth can readily eliminate that obstacle.
Virtual visits also allow patients to consult with a greater diversity of medical professionals in the event that more treatment is needed. Similarly, monitoring devices, which are routinely used as a part of telehealth solutions, can help medical providers keep track of the vital signs of a mother and baby alike without subjecting them to the stress of travel and waiting times in a clinic.
Beyond prenatal care, telehealth solutions can handle a host of reproductive health issues, including but not limited to the following:
- Contraception, including emergency contraception and hormonal contraception options
- STI treatment, including testing, prevention, and telemedicine-assisted colposcopies
- OB-Psych care, addressing issues such as postpartum depression and prenatal psychiatric issues
- Men’s sexual health issues, such as low fertility, erectile dysfunction, and premature ejaculation
Other Telehealth Services
A variety of other telehealth services are also available, although not all of them directly involve patients. Many of these other functions have to do with how physicians and other medical personnel communicate and share information. They also involve the logistical and organizational efforts of health care providers, keeping them much more attuned to pertinent issues as they arise. This improved efficiency and ability to communicate have an impact across the entire organization, freeing up time and resources to better aid patients.
Patients themselves can benefit from telehealth solutions with a patient portal, allowing them to access key information, such as their personal health records (PNR). It also allows patients to record metrics like calorie consumption and physical exercise, note health readings, schedule prescription refills and similar important events, and send texts to their care practitioners. This gives them agency over their healthcare experience while also allowing them instant access to records anytime and anywhere they want.
Key Benefits of Telehealth
We’ve touched on the benefits of telehealth elsewhere in this article, but they are myriad and worth formal discussion. In the broadest sense, telehealth saves considerable time and money. This, in turn, provides greater resources to devote to treating patients.
In particular, companies that utilize a remote work or hybrid work model—where employees spend some or all of their time working from a remote location—absolutely require telehealth employee healthcare benefits for their plan to function. Hybrid workplaces are rapidly becoming the new normal, and telehealth options are following suit. Simply put, the ROI of telehealth solutions for employers is too high to ignore.
More specifically, telehealth solutions provide a number of benefits for workers and companies alike.
Advantages of Telehealth for Employees
- Time saved. Telehealth solutions save employees transit time since they don’t need to travel to a medical clinic in order to receive care. This also allows workers—who cannot otherwise afford to travel—get to a doctor in a timely manner. The time saved can prove considerable!
- More care options, e.g. direct primary care (DPC). Telehealth options allow workers to see their preferred medical personnel, regardless if they are in their area. With virtual direct primary care as an option, employees can have a continuum of care under their physician of choice. This vastly expands the options patients have regarding their care, giving them more agency and empowerment over their personal health.
- Visits from anywhere. Telehealth solutions let patients meet with their physician from anywhere—even in their car. This utility saves time and money even further, and in many cases, allows swift access to a physician.
- Covid-19 safety. Patients with residual concerns about Covid-19—especially those part of at-risk demographics or suffering from conditions that make them more vulnerable to infection—can see a doctor safely, regardless of what condition they’re seeking treatment for.
- Preventative care. Telehealth visits make it easier for patients to see doctors more readily, which can better facilitate preventative care and regular visits. The results improve overall health, as issues can be detected earlier and treated more effectively.
- Patients can access health records instantly via an app on their phone or computer, without any time-consuming, ponderous searches.
Advantages of Telehealth for Employers
- Reduced overall costs. Regular access to medical care provided by telehealth solutions translates to healthier workforces as a whole. Medical costs go down without ever dropping the quality of care.
- Attract and retain valuable employees. The Great Resignation has tilted the business market in favor of labor. With the time and costs saved by efficient hybrid work models, a strong telehealth program can bring more skilled employees to your table. It also makes it easier to retain them since they can continue to enjoy the benefits of telehealth solutions in your company.
- Less time is taken off. Telemedicine means that employees don’t need to spend transit time for medical visits—which means the company loses less time as well. It also means fewer sick days, as more regular access to healthcare allows more conditions to be treated earlier.
- A necessity for hybrid workplaces. Hybrid work environments provide savings and flexibility when properly implemented. Companies spend less on office space and similar operating costs—without losing workforce productivity—while widening the pool to pull in skilled workers from anywhere in the world. Telehealth services are a necessary part of a successful hybrid workplace, as they permit increased flexibility and choice while trimming your expenses.
Considerations When Choosing Your Telehealth Provider
Once you’ve made the decision to offer telehealth solutions to your employer, the question becomes which telehealth provider you should use. Every business is different, and with that comes unique healthcare needs. Choose a provider that fits those needs most accurately. The specific concerns will depend on your company but usually include the following factors:
- The types of benefits offered. Not every employee will need the services offered by a given provider. An older worker with grown children will require different services than a younger worker hoping to start a family, for instance. One with an active lifestyle may need quite different care than one without. Look for a telehealth provider offering a variety of benefits that cover your workforce’s wants and needs.
- Up-front costs: An exceptional telehealth service such as Doctegrity has transparent costs and makes use as easy as possible for employees by offering services with no copay attached.
- Health and safety compliance. Not all telehealth providers are created equal, which is why HIPAA compliance matters. Compliance ensures that your chosen telehealth company adheres to high health and safety standards and provides quality care accordingly.
- Technology. Telehealth often entails new technology, which typically takes the form of apps or software. Businesses should make sure they’re compatible with their own technological ecosystem—and that employees can get up to speed quickly and easily.
- Accessibility. Telehealth services such as Doctegrity are accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, giving employees fast access to urgent care issues.
- Savings and Efficiency. When properly implemented, telehealth solutions can solve problems of excess healthcare costs for your company—without sacrificing the quality care your workers deserve.
Telehealth and Healthcare Insurance
One of the biggest benefits of telehealth solutions is the savings, particularly the way it allows companies to provide quality healthcare while still reining in costs. Much of this can be seen in the impact it has on healthcare insurance expenses.
Not only can telemedicine reduce day-to-day costs; by widening accessibility to new patients, it can also reduce overall expenditure. A patient who can use telehealth services on a regular basis has a better chance of getting an emergent condition diagnosed and treated before it becomes a larger—and far more expensive—condition than one who can’t. This efficiency has played a role in Medicare’s decision to offer telehealth solutions as part of its coverage. When seeking out telehealth solutions for your company, look for services that aim to expand telehealth insurance coverage.
Common Telehealth Issues, Challenges, and Limitations
As helpful as they can be and as versatile as their potential uses are, telehealth services still have some practical limitations. These, too, need to be factored into your company’s telehealth solutions plan—how to address the pitfalls and barriers you may encounter when setting up or using a given telehealth service.
As we mentioned earlier, there are some injuries and conditions you simply can’t tend to remotely. They include most types of emergency services, as well as more complex procedures such as surgery. They may also include procedures that require certain types of devices or scans, as well as those that demand the use of dedicated facilities.
This, in turn, can lead to gaps in care. Patients who become used to the ease of telehealth services may neglect issues that still need in-person care. The comparative ease of telehealth services can also sometimes lead to abuses of the system, as patients seek unnecessary care or prescriptions. A good telehealth provider will have policies in place to curtail such activities.
No technology is ever perfect, and telehealth services can sometimes be disrupted by unreliable connections or devices in need of replacement. People without internet service are at a particular disadvantage. Telehealth solutions depend on robust connection, and while there are public areas such as libraries and community centers that provide free Wi-Fi access, they often lack the privacy needed for a medical visit.
Factors to Consider When Shopping For A Telehealth Provider
Telehealth services work as intended when they fit what your employees need, which can vary quite a bit depending on the individual. This should be your number one consideration when deciding what kind of telehealth service you should use for your business. The more you know about your requirements, the more readily you can make a selection that works for you.
Most telehealth services provide one (or a combination) of a few basic categories:
Synchronous services entail “face time” meetings with a doctor, using video conferencing and similar means. Meanwhile, store-and-forward services involve sharing information—such as a lab report or x-rays—with an expert in another location.
Remote monitoring or telemonitoring services include remote vital function tracking. Finally, mHealth services use apps and software to keep patients supported between formal medical visits. This includes notifications like medication reminders and specific instructions for care.
A capable telehealth vendor will offer a variety of services within these categories—along with the networking solutions to facilitate them.
With that in mind, here are a few broad considerations to help you sort through your options and choose the best service for your company and employees:
Every business needs to keep sensitive information secure from bad-faith operators. That’s doubly true for personal medical information. Your telehealth service should always be HIPAA, PHIPA, or PIPEDA compliant and include end-to-end encryption to ensure records are kept private.
Every business has a different technological ecosystem, using different pieces of software to help them run their operation. The telehealth solutions you vet should offer software flexibility, capable of operating on multiple systems or devices. This will better ensure that your business can utilize the service without a lot of technical problems.
As with most other vendors, you need a telehealth partner who responds to your needs. Chatbots and other cost-saving measures can’t help you through software setup or guide your employees to the portal they need. Real-time support services are a must for any telehealth vendor—as are effective and readily available means to educate employees about how to use the platform.
Ease of Use
Generally speaking, a telehealth vendor should not be unduly admin-intensive. The more streamlined the process is for governing payments, claims, and similar issues, the more readily your employees will be able to use it. The platform should be easy to onboard and use, without lengthy learning processes or frustrating interfaces.
A telehealth solution must do more than just provide video conferencing with a doctor. It should include a range of services, including form management, scheduling services, prescription management, medical history logs, symptom checkers, and payment modes.
The State of Telehealth: Trends, Laws, and Technologies
Telehealth is an evolving phenomenon. As the necessities of the Covid-19 pandemic give way to the increased options and flexibility of a more connected world, the state of telehealth is one of tremendous change. The benefits of using telehealth services have become apparent—which in turn has led to fresh challenges for providers and policymakers to help guide its development.
Studies from the American Medical Association and elsewhere help prove the point. According to their surveys, nearly half of all respondents used telehealth for the first time during the Covid-19 pandemic, which means it’s still a comparatively new method of receiving healthcare.
Similarly, the vast majority (88%) say that they want to continue using telehealth services in the future, though most still said that they anticipate combining it with in-person care. Perhaps most importantly, most stated that they detected no difference in the quality of the care, nor in privacy or overall cost.
Telehealth grew exponentially during the pandemic, as noted in studies by the AHIMA, and those trends have continued in the ensuing two years. Telemedicine is here to stay and will invariably be a part of most, if not all, healthcare plans in the future.
But as with everything, there are complexities. The better a given business can understand and anticipate them, the more readily they can utilize telehealth services moving forward.
Current State of Telehealth
Telehealth currently exists in some form or another across most of the healthcare landscape, with some type of telehealth offered by the likes of Medicare, Kaiser, and the Mayo Clinic. Video conferencing and rapid exchanges of information have swiftly become a norm, accelerated by the pandemic but now very much an accepted part of life. Telehealth has developed along with that trend, enhanced by other technological developments such as the Internet of Things.
Prevailing trends in telehealth have followed the contours one would expect in those circumstances. For example, therapy sessions and similar mental health treatments can often be conducted quite effectively via telehealth methods. Similarly, check-ups with the doctor for chronic or recurring conditions can function via telehealth methods. Physical therapy and rehabilitation become easier as well—essentially, any task typically facilitated by visual assessment and/or verbal communication. Monitoring technology can similarly allow physicians to keep an eye on patients from anywhere, provided the condition isn’t acute and can be treated remotely.
As healthcare technology continues to improve and people are able to accomplish more from remote locations, these contours are apt to change. While telehealth currently operates in conjunction with traditional medicine, the rapidly advancing state of the tools involved means that will likely be very different in four or five years. Businesses interested in telehealth solutions should thus plan with the long-term in mind. How will an investment today pay off in the future?
Telehealth Regulations You Should Know
Telehealth laws differ by state, governing how they work in relation to insurance and more traditional medical care. Those laws are evolving just as telehealth solutions do. Among the biggest concerns are patients engaging in telehealth sessions with a doctor or medical provider from another state where laws may differ. Because the situation is evolving, so are the laws and regulations behind telehealth.
Any business looking to add a telehealth solution to their healthcare package needs to assess the regulations of their local area with due diligence. It’s also advisable to keep abreast of updates and changes in telehealth law, just as you would any other aspect of your business. It’s a good rule of thumb to make sure you choose a provider who stay up-to-date on the most current policies and regulations, like these key players in telehealth:
- Teladoc – a multinational telemedicine company whose mission is to transform how patients access and experience virtual healthcare.
- MD Live – dedicated to offering access to reliable, high-quality healthcare by phone or by video, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- Amwell – one of the pioneers of digital healthcare solutions, serving as a one-stop telehealth provider for employers and business owners alike.
- One Medical – provides world-class primary care with a membership-based service that offers both virtual and in-person healthcare
- Doctegrity – an up-and-coming telehealth company offering access to top-quality healthcare with no copay or insurance needed.
Key Trends and Technologies Driving the Future of Telemedicine
Telehealth has rapidly become an established medical practice, and its integration into medicine as a whole will only grow as time goes on. AHIMA predicts that restrictions and limitations on use will continue to fall as global telecommunications make it increasingly easy to exchange information with anyone in the world. Similarly, the variety of maladies treatable with telehealth solutions are likely to expand. The same can be said for mental and behavioral care options, which are expected to develop particularly rapidly, as remote psychiatric counseling services more and more areas that were previously unreachable.
As far as businesses are concerned, the models and methodology by which telehealth policies will be implemented will only continue to grow. It’s important to remember that telehealth will never entirely replace traditional healthcare (at least, not in the near future). The goal of a good telehealth solution is simply to make quality care more accessible and more affordable.
Plan Your Telehealth Option Today with Doctegrity
Employee health and wellness should be the top priority for every business, but those needs are rapidly changing as hybrid work becomes the new normal. Telehealth options provide forward-thinking companies with a strong incentive for their workers.
Not only is it easier for current employees to access their healthcare plans with telehealth; but these options also improve healthcare overall. That helps businesses stay within their budget while still providing the high-quality care their workers need. This, in turn, helps in attracting and retaining skilled employees, for whom reliable healthcare may be an incentive to stay with your business for the long run.
When making the decision as to which telehealth provider your business wants to use, you have a number of options. Since every business is unique, only you can decide which one is the best fit. Doctegrity makes the choice easier as one of the leading providers in the market, offering sensible telehealth options with no copay and easy access to top-notch healthcare. If you’re looking for a healthcare solution for your company, contact Doctegrity today and set up an appointment!