With More Education and Engagement, Telemedicine Could Change the Future of Healthcare

dgb-telemedicineBy now most have heard of the technology that is said to be ‘shaping the future of healthcare’. Many consider telemedicine, also referred to as telehealth, to be a viable option for care, bringing incredible value to patients by offering both convenience and efficiency. But, maybe you’re not yet convinced. Or, maybe you’re not fully 
certain it’s a strategy your clients or your employees can benefit from or would fully utilize.

At Diversified Group, we believe strongly in telemedicine. And, here’s why… In an industry that continues to shift towards value-based 
care, telemedicine can improve access to care while reducing costs. How can it be so simple? Because, telemedicine and electronic communications are changing the way patients can be treated – letting plan members connect with a doctor via smartphone, tablet or smart TV 
to obtain a diagnosis, determine a treatment plan or get a prescription without having to leave their home or office. And, when using these over the phone or face-to-face video visits as a first point of contact they can substitute lengthy trips to the physician’s office, prevent trips to the ER and avoid costly health claims.

Taking it one step further, thanks to mobile apps, more and more patients are able to use telemedicine to stay proactive and healthy by monitoring vital signs and maintaining a healthy lifestyle with tools such as personalized wellness coaching – all of which ultimately keep consumers out of primary care facilities, doctor’s offices and the ER. It really is that simple.

Not everyone may be convinced of the benefits that telemedicine can offer to employer groups and plan members. 
But one thing is for certain – this is not just a short-lived trend. With increasing actions being taken to legitimize 
telemedicine, we continue to recommend and offer solutions such as RealTimeTelemed (powered by HealthiestYou) 
and TelaDoc, which offer plan members consumer-empowering tools, including 24/7/365 access to a network of doctors and prescription drug cost comparison tools.

For 50 years, Diversified Group has worked closely with clients to meet their health insurance needs. We have the 
experience to know the importance of thinking through the potential impact of cost control measures, including 
telemedicine and easier provider access. And, because we strive to explore any and all possibilities to provide quality, affordable healthcare plans, we can help you determine what is best for your covered group. Contact us today!

For more information on Telemedicine, 
contact Diversified Group Today.

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TeleMedicine Continues to Grow

telemedicineIf you haven’t interacted with a doctor by smart phone, email or webcam recently, you’ll be interested to know that the American Telemedicine Association reports that more than 15 million Americans received some kind of medical care remotely last year.

For those employed by a large company or living in a major metro area, it is common to view telemedicine as a virtual doctor visit or a substitute for an in-person office visit. The fact is that electronic communications are impacting the delivery of healthcare in many ways.

  • Some doctors are consulting with one another to make critical decisions on heart attack and stroke victims.
  • Patients are using smart phones to relay blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs to their doctors in order to better manage chronic conditions.
  • Virtual Care Centers are providing remote support to ICUs and ERs in small, rural hospitals where a physician may not be on site 24/7.

Many question whether the quality of care is keeping pace with the rapid expansion of telemedicine, and state rules governing telemedicine are constantly evolving. At the same time, health plans and a growing number of members view the services as a convenient way to get medical care without leaving home or work.

The AMA recently approved new ethical guidelines for telemedicine, calling for participating doctors to recognize its limitations and ensure that sufficient information is available before making a clinical recommendation. With existing telemedicine providers expanding and major teaching institutions gearing up, there appears to be no slowdown in sight.

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5 steps to better care at lower costs for your sickest employees

Article as seen in Benefits Pro on October 12, 2016 written by Cindi A. Slater M.D.

Open enrollment is upon us and for the majority of employers, that means offering employees a high deductible health plan. It is also the time of year when benefits professionals are most likely to remind employees to shop around when using their health care and invite them to engage with a price transparency tool. And yet if you focus solely on these strategies, you may be missing a monumental opportunity to curb your health care spending while also improving your employees’ health.

The bulk of employer health care spending on an annual basis is driven by the care provided to a handful of very high cost employees, like the employee with multiple chronic conditions or the employee with recurrent cancer. A new report out from the American Health Policy Institute and Leavitt Partners documents that among 26 large employers, 1.2 percent of employees are high cost claimants who comprise 31 percent of total health care spending.  High deductible health plans do nothing to contain costs for these employees who quickly meet their deductible. Benefits professionals need a multi-pronged strategy to improve care and contain costs for this special population.

Many employers have already deployed one common strategy designed especially for employees with multiple chronic conditions: wellness. But the jury is still out on the ROI of engaging the sick to exercise and eat better. To understand how we can save dollars while improving care, we need to take a closer look at the five critical points in an employee’s health care journey where costs can jump suddenly and dramatically. Then we can better understand the strategies and tools benefits professionals have at their disposal to intervene during these critical moments. Continue reading

3 key questions to ask about telehealth benefits

Article as seen in Employee Benefit Adviser on October 11, 2016, written by Stephany Verstraete

Today widespread confusion persists regarding what is required to unleash the powerful cost savings potential of a robust telehealth benefit. Articles whitewash the landscape with talk of “average utilization rates,” and “check-the-box” options promising to do it all. The reality is while a telehealth benefit can be a highly effective tool in the fight against rising claims and premium costs, it is only effective if you choose the right partner and the right solution for a given client’s needs; otherwise you are just leaving money on the table.

This can present a challenge for decision makers: how to select the telehealth solution that is the best fit for you and your clients. We suggest first looking at the solution you have, or are contemplating, and asking these three, straightforward questions:

1) What do I expect to gain from offering a telehealth benefit?

Your decision process should begin with evaluating and prioritizing your client’s strategic business objectives. These might include: increasing healthcare access for hard-to-reach employees, creating meaningful cost savings through redirection, and establishing a best-in-industry benefits package to compete for top talent. Then look closely at details such as plan design, care access, delivery choices and fee structure — options designed to best ensure the path you choose is equipped to deliver on your expectations. Ask to see a proven track record with similar clients.

Further, don’t be afraid to set high expectations. The right telehealth solution represents an innovative opportunity to deliver on a wide range of important objectives.

2) What should I expect my utilization to be?

Once you’ve determined your telehealth objectives, it is important to deliberate on what it will take to realize these goals. And more often than not, objectives depend on utilization.

Telehealth utilization rates are highly dependent on three key variables: plan design, consumer awareness and the quality of the experience. With research showing less than half of Americans are familiar with telemedicine, and less than a quarter have tried it, we are far from “if you offer it, they will come.”

3) How do I maximize my savings?

Some brokers share that their clients ask, “Should I invest in a per-employee-per-month model?” And the answer is straightforward: realizing meaningful cost savings through telehealth is only achievable with investment in a partner proven to drive behavior change and deliver a quality care experience that is on par with, if not superior to, other options available. Consumers today demand choice, and businesses demand ease of implementation and administration. Taking the time upfront to understand what you are really getting for your money, and what the full costs will be to accomplish your specific goals, will allow you to reap the benefits over the lifetime of your contract.

Net net, don’t be fooled by smoke and mirrors, or oversimplified calculations. Do your homework, ask the right questions, and you’ll be confident you made the right decision.

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A Look at Telemedicine and Physician Access

dg-telemedicine-blog2In a world of increased convenience, you can do your taxes online, you can get breaking news online and you can make reservations for your favorite restaurant online. In recent years, healthcare has followed suit with online resources and digital mechanisms to make your well-being easier to track and medical treatment more convenient to access.

One particular revolution in the digital health space is the use of telemedicine (TM), the remote delivery of healthcare services and clinical information through telecommunications technologies like internet, satellite, telephone and wireless media1. Also referred to as telehealth, telemedicine is growing rapidly as a viable component of care in the United States, with approximately 200 TM networks and around 3,500 U.S. service sites1. Indeed, over half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine1, and thanks to mobile apps, millions of patients around the world use TM to monitor vital signs, maintain a healthy lifestyle and, ultimately, stay out of the emergency room.

Arguably the most groundbreaking telemedicine service is the use of technology as a substitute to the physician’s office, where patients can call, Skype or Facetime with a physician to get a diagnosis for mild maladies like the common cold, flu or virus. The result is increased access with minimized inconvenience to the patient, eliminating travel and time spent in the waiting room.

dg-telemedicine-blogIt’s an offering with tremendous potential, and we’ve seen a drastic change in the way telemedicine is presented to the public. To increase telemedicine proficiency around the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced $16 million in grants to improve telecommunications equipment in 25 states to allow physicians in smaller hospital groups and in rural areas access to telemedicine services2. On Sept. 19, the organization funded 18 distance learning and telemedicine projects in 16 states to continue expanding access3. The American Medical Association (AMA) recently approved new ethical guidelines for TM to boost not only its standards and value, but also its potential. The guidelines insist doctors executing TM understand and abide by its confines and ensure they have sufficient information to make any remote diagnosis or recommendation4. Additionally, experts say more hospitals are likely to invest in telemedicine systems as they move away from fee-for-service payments and into managed-care style contracts, which offer a set fee to provide care for patients and hospitals to keep any savings achieved4.

Actions like these have legitimized telemedicine and brought it to the forefront as a viable option for care, and there’s incredible value in the convenience and efficiency telemedicine can bring to patients on a day-to-day basis. That’s why, at Diversified Group, we recommend firms such as Teladoc, to enable patients to use video or the telephone to consult with a doctor anytime – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – and obtain a diagnosis, determine a treatment plan or get a prescription. Patients can be connected with a physician in as little as two minutes, and doctors working with Teladoc use more than 100 guidelines developed specifically for delivering care remotely4.

As these trends continue and individuals become more and more comfortable with telemedicine, some may forego the search for an in-network primary care physician. While we believe strongly in telemedicine at Diversified Group, we are also aware of its limitations. As such, we work very closely with our self-funded employer group clients to achieve an appropriate balance of provider access and cost control. After decades of experience, we know it is always critically important to think through the potential impact of cost control measures, including telemedicine and provider access. As always, feel free to contact us to discuss these options or for help in determining what is best for your covered group.

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Sources

    1. “Telemedicine Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).” Telemedicine FAQs. American Telemedicine Association, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
    2. Gregg, Helen. “USDA Investment in Rural Telecommunications Aims to Boost Telemedicine Efforts.” USDA Investment in Rural Telecommunications Aims to Boost Telemedicine Efforts. Becker’s Hospital Review, 7 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
    3. “News Release.” USDA Funds 18 Distance Learning and Telemedicine Projects in 16 States. United States Department of Agriculture, 19 Sept. 2016. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
    4. Beck, Melinda. “How Telemedicine Is Transforming Health Care.” WSJ. Wsj.com, 26 June 2016. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
    5. Frakt, Austin. “You Mean I Don’t Have to Show Up? The Promise of Telemedicine.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 May 2016. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
    6. 10, 2016 By KATHERINE IGOEMay. “Telemedicine Use Increases among Rural Medicare Beneficiaries.” HMS. Harvard Medical School, 10 May 2016. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.