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The value of telehealth in a connected system

 

This is the second article in a 2-part series on telehealth. Don’t miss the first part of the story about telehealth’s potential to transform care delivery.

Telehealth connectivity has made getting care more convenient than ever for consumers — but the advantages for employers can go far beyond convenience.

Empowering your employees to choose where, when, and how they get care can motivate them to be more proactive about their health — which can reduce absenteeism and potentially help keep health care costs down. And when telehealth care and in-person care are delivered within the same connected system, it can lead to better outcomes for employees and a healthier workforce overall.

The truth about third-party telehealth

Research shows that telehealth has the potential to save U.S. companies more than $6 billion a year.1 And 93% of consumers who’ve used telehealth say that it lowered their health care costs.2 But not all telehealth care is created equal. Quality, cost, and available services can vary wildly.

Telehealth works best in an integrated, connected system — but in most cases, it’s delivered in a vacuum by third-party providers. They can’t access medical records or monitor their patients’ conditions. And their services typically aren’t covered by employer-sponsored health plans — third-party telehealth comes with additional costs for employers, employees, or both.

When providers aren’t aware of existing health conditions, medications, and other important factors, the best they can do is offer quick fixes for minor health issues. The truth is that these types of telehealth care interactions don’t reduce the need for in-person visits — and don’t do much to support overall health.3

Demand is high — why is utilization so low?

While employer demand for third-party telehealth services is high, employee utilization is surprisingly low. In 2016, more than 70% of large companies offered employer-sponsored telehealth services in states where it’s allowed — but a survey showed that only 3% of employees had used them in the first half of the year.4

People’s biggest concerns about using telehealth services are cost, privacy, and losing the personal relationship with their doctor.5 Because telehealth care at Kaiser Permanente happens within our connected system, we’re uniquely positioned to address these concerns — and many of our members take full advantage of their telehealth options. From scheduling in-person visits on our mobile app to connecting with their personal doctors by phone, video, or email, millions of our members are getting care when and where it works for them — on the devices they already use.

Connecting telehealth with total health

At Kaiser Permanente, we use telehealth for preventive care and chronic condition management, not just for simple one-time health care needs. And telehealth is a component of our integrated care program — not an add-on. It’s available to all members and built into your company’s health plan. Kaiser Permanente members get the same high-quality care they’d get in person — care that’s covered by their plan, captured in their electronic health record, and becomes part of their overall health care experience.

Using telehealth to drive quality

Telehealth connectivity helps us be more responsive to our members’ needs. Providers can consult with each other instantly and work more efficiently. Care can be delivered sooner by the specialists who can best provide it, which can lead to healthier outcomes for our members. Here are some examples of how we’re applying telehealth technology in new and innovative ways:

Video consults: connecting providers across locations and specialties
Many Kaiser Permanente emergency departments use video to consult with specialists at our regional Pediatric Intensive Care Units. Within seconds, the specialist becomes another member of the care team — operating the camera remotely and observing the situation in high definition, including changes in the patient’s vital signs and appearance. The specialist can make important decisions, recommend treatment, and assist remotely with procedures performed by the emergency team.

Telestroke: accelerating care when every second matters
Time is of the essence during a stroke — approximately 2 million brain cells die every minute until treatment is initiated.6 Since we piloted our telestroke program in many Kaiser Permanente emergency departments, we’re starting treatment twice as fast.7 Here’s how: When stroke patients arrive in the emergency department, they need to see both a neurologist and a radiologist before treatment can begin. Special beds equipped with mobile devices enable neurologists to conduct video evaluations while virtually accompanying members to radiology — so they can get patients there faster, start treatment sooner, and save precious minutes and lives.

Telehealth is central to how we practice medicine at Kaiser Permanente — we use it to improve outcomes and deliver better care experiences every day. Whether your employees have a traditional office visit or choose one of our telehealth options, they’ll get care from Kaiser Permanente providers who can access and update medical records, coordinate follow-up appointments, and make telehealth care part of their overall health care experience. That’s the power of telehealth delivered within a connected health care system: It all works together to support the total health of your employees — and your business.