Offering on-demand telehealth to health plan members is a necessity in today’s marketplace. After all, it helps plans provide consumer-centric convenience and appropriate levels of non-urgent care, curb costs, decrease unnecessary ER and urgent care visits, boost member satisfaction and improve outcomes.
But while more than three-quarters of consumers say they’re open to virtual care for non-urgent conditions, only less than a quarter have given telemedicine a try. And while 75% of all doctor, urgent care and ER visits are either unnecessary or can be handled safely over the phone or video, as a nation we’re spending $4.4 billion on non-urgent ER visits every year.
Why aren’t more members giving virtual care a try? Perhaps it’s because eight in 10 consumers report being unsure or unaware of the telehealth services they have available to them.
The truth is, healthcare consumers will likely need the industry’s help transitioning to the use of telehealth as a first-care option. It’s a transformation that will take time and effort—but there are strategies that can make a difference right now. Here are six to pave the way.
Shout it from the rooftops. This may be the most obvious (and most straightforward) tip, but you likely have a half-dozen or more marketing materials that should tout the benefits of telehealth. Enrollment and new-member kits, wellness and member portals, benefits cards, on-hold messages, member apps, emails, text messages—think of every member-facing piece of paper or digital asset as the perfect real estate to tell members what your telehealth service is, when and how to access it, and importantly, how much it will cost (more on that in tip #6). And don’t forget non-English speakers as you develop your materials. Providing information in other languages will help those audiences understand your offerings and make them feel more comfortable using them.
Make every interaction meaningful. Each time you speak with a member is the right time to build rapport and provide education that will support positive and sustained behavior change. Staff your virtual care access points with teams who are trained to use advanced listening and motivational techniques to make the most of every interaction, including:
> Explaining plan benefits (such as telehealth) and preventive care importance (that can often be addressed via telehealth)
> Assigning a primary care physician (including one who is reachable via telehealth channels)
> Completing a comprehensive health risk assessment, which may unearth opportunities to use telehealth (such as behavioral health services)
Try targeted outreach. Certain healthcare needs have predictability built in, such as flu and allergy season. Use those opportunities to head off urgent care visits before they occur by sending non-PHI emails, texts and letters to members that include information about the types of healthcare services they can get via telehealth, as well as the costs and how to access them. Also include high-utilization audiences in your outreach strategy, such as parents of young children and those with chronic diseases.
Create trigger points. It happens. Sometimes members simply choose to use the ER or urgent care. Set up triggers so that you can contact members when it does happen and use the opportunity to understand more about the visit. Are they still experiencing symptoms? Are they following through with discharge orders? Do they need to schedule a follow-up virtual visit with a registered nurse? Of course, also use the opportunity to educate the member on the 24/7 virtual care available to them, so they understand what low- or no-cost expert care they can access without ever stepping foot in an ER, urgent care center or doctor’s office.
Communicate the quality of care. When you work within the healthcare industry, it seems a given that treatment is based on current best practices. But the average consumer may not know that. Members may feel more comfortable accessing telehealth if they know the care will be the same quality they receive in traditional care settings. They may need to be educated on how telehealth clinicians use up-to-date and comprehensive evidence-based best practices. It may also help them rest easy to know that your virtual care is backed by stringent accreditation standards such as those awarded by National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) and URAC.
Reduce (or even remove) the cost barrier. As healthcare costs continue to rise, consumers tend to either put off care or use urgent care centers (which many perceive to be lower cost). But the fact is, virtual is the lowest-cost way to provide and access care. Using an integrated telehealth approach, you can more effectively triage and direct members to the right resources at the right time—keeping costs down for you and them. For example, our experience shows that registered nurses can manage about half of all calls that typically come in for an MD virtual consult. When you combine the resource savings from a better-triaged virtual care model with the savings your plan and your members will gain from ER, urgent care and primary care diversion, you may be able to provide telehealth for free to your members.
If you’d like more information on how you can offer next-generation, 24/7 virtual care free to your members, schedule some time with Carenet Health CEO John Erwin.