That wasn’t the headline of the article published in the Chicago Tribune on Sunday Oct. 10, but it should have been. I was excited when the Chicago Tribune called me to talk about First Stop Health’s telemedicine solution. But when the article came out, the title, “More firms offering telemedicine – so why aren’t workers using it” was a bit perplexing to me.
I spoke at length with the author about our high utilization telemedicine solution and gave her customer references to check out my story. In fact, she quoted PowerReviews, one of our Chicago-based clients, as having an annualized utilization rate of 72% (51 consults in 6 months). That doesn’t sound like no one is using it. I can also report that 30% of PowerReviews’ households have used First Stop Health at least once in the first six months of the year. PowerReviews is not an anomaly in our client portfolio, either. Across all of our clients, our average utilization rate is 44%.
When I came to work at First Stop Health more than two years ago, no one I talked to even knew what telemedicine was, let alone that it was legal to prescribe antibiotics over the phone. In a short time, all that has started to change. Nearly 70% of large employers will offer telemedicine benefits to their employees in 2016. But the sad fact is that it is still true the vast majority will never use it. In fact, telemedicine that is embedded with a major medical plan will barely drive 1% utilization (or 10 calls per 1,000 employees annually). Telemedicine outside of major medical, provided by the employer achieves an average of only 7% utilization (or 70 calls per 1,000 employees annually). Eighty percent of telemedicine is provided by Teladoc in the market today, which drives down these utilization numbers and distorts the potential benefits of telemedicine for employers.
But, the silver lining is that First Stop Health has taken a totally different approach to providing telemedicine to our clients. We are steadfast in our belief that deep engagement with employees drives better decision making. Through a true partnership with our clients, we can drive the comprehensive education and awareness campaigns required to recognize the hundreds of thousands of dollars in healthcare claims savings telemedicine can drive. This type of behavior change cannot be achieved with a self-service set of one-size-fits-all flyers and emails, nor can it be accomplished by the HR or benefits staff, or even the benefits consultant printing flyers and sending the occasional email. First Stop Health insists on driving a customized, comprehensive engagement campaign for two reasons: 1) because we know when high utilization is achieved we will have a client for life and 2) we contractually guarantee we will save more money than the benefit costs or we will refund the difference – the only savings guarantee in the industry. This perfectly aligns our goals with that of our customers and the results show it.
In a country where healthcare expenses are one of the largest line items in a families’ and a companies’ budget, we need to get smarter about how we spend our healthcare dollars. Telemedicine is the only way to take claims out of the system immediately. It is also the only way to get diagnosed and treated for common conditions, by a doctor, without leaving your home, office, hotel or even your car.
There are a number of companies providing telemedicine benefits in the market today. Contrary to what you might think, not all services are delivered equally. When you are looking for a telemedicine solution, the only thing you should be concerned about it utilization and partnering with a company that can deliver on the promise of savings. The Tribune article title would make you think that no one is using telemedicine, but that is not the case with First Stop Health -- just ask our healthy and happy clients.