What telemedicine is

If you get health benefits through an employer, you have likely heard about a new benefit being offered to employees: telemedicine (sometimes referred to as telehealth). According to research from the National Business Group on Health, 90 percent of large employers offer telemedicine to their employees. Another eight percent of employers plan to offer telemedicine in the next three years.

What is telemedicine? With telemedicine, you can speak with a doctor or medical professional using phone, email or video without having to go into their office. Usually, patients use telemedicine to get answers to an urgent health issue, like an ear infection, high fever or rash. Telemedicine is offered by many doctor’s offices as a perk of being a patient. In addition, there are companies that offer telemedicine as an employee benefit or through a health plan for its members.

The need for telemedicine

Companies know that their employees are pinched for time, so many offer telemedicine as a way to get care without having to take time off of work, go to the emergency room or drive to their doctor’s office. You will likely be able to be seen quicker through telemedicine than if you had to see a doctor in person. Parents also find it helpful to be able to reach a doctor at all hours of the day, as many telemedicine visits are available 24/7. Some telemedicine providers even offer visits to discuss behavioral health challenges like stress, anxiety and depression.

“Pre-registering can save time when you have that urgent medical issue come up.”

In addition to being convenient, people who have used telemedicine tend to pay less for the visit. In fact, some employers offer telemedicine for free. If you have a consumer-directed health plan with a health savings account, you may be asked to pay the full cost of the visit, although it will likely be less than the cost of a regular office visit.

Now that you are convinced that telemedicine is a good thing, how can you get access to it?

Ways to access telemedicine

Start by asking your HR representative if telemedicine is provided by your employer as a benefit. If they say no or that they don’t know, call your health plan to see if it’s available through them. Many major carriers are now offering telemedicine visits to their members for free or for a small copay. However, if you do have it, go on their website to register yourself and dependents. Pre-registering can save time when you have that urgent medical issue come up.

Familiarize yourself with the conditions that can be treated over telemedicine through their telemedicine website and then add the phone number to your contacts list in your phone. If they offer a mobile app, which some do, download it to your smartphone. When you need quick medical advice, use telemedicine. If the issue is serious and needs to be seen by a doctor in-person, the telemedicine provider will direct you to the best place to get care.