In 2020, employers will strive to find the right mix of virtual and in-person benefit offerings and expand the scope of telehealth offerings.
Employers continue to emphasize telehealth and make it an attractive care option for employees. In 2016, 41% of employers offered the benefit; in 2019, 86% did. Plus, 61% of employers set employee cost sharing lower for telemedicine visits than in-person visits in 2019.
Many employers and payers have added telehealth as an option for urgent care. But according to the 49% of consumers HRI surveyed with employer coverage willing to use telehealth, the most popular perceived use was ongoing treatment of a physical condition or ailment.
Some employers already are responding by expanding telehealth offerings to target specific conditions, including chronic back pain. An estimated 1.4 million individuals with employer-based insurance suffered from musculoskeletal issues in 2015 to the tune of approximately $2.5 billion. In partnerships with employers, one telehealth company delivers a 12-week virtual physical therapy program to employees with chronic back or joint pain, focusing on sensor-guided exercise therapy.
The program provides patients with self-management tools that help them avoid prescription drugs or surgery and eliminates some of the barriers to in-person physical therapy, such as time constraints for appointments, costs of transportation and challenges to tracking outcomes and program adherence.
According to a study conducted by Cleveland Clinic researchers of another digital platform for physical therapy, patients’ adherence to digital at-home therapy was almost 80 percent, compared with 35 percent to 70 percent for traditional physical therapy.
Employers and payers also are nudging employees to receive administered drugs in lower-cost ways, including in their homes. According to the Health Care Cost Institute, employer spending on administered drugs, such as those that must be infused or injected intravenously, increased 45% from 2013 to 2017. The cost of infusion and intravenous medications in the home setting is lower than in a medical office or hospital outpatient center. There is an overwhelming opportunity to realize savings—for example, only 4% of patients receive the infusible biologic Remicade, a drug that treats arthritis and certain bowel and skin diseases, in the home setting. Patients also tend to prefer home infusion therapy.