Telehealth: 3 Things HR Leaders Should Know

A young doctor works with telehealth and speaks on the phone.

Telemedicine, where patients "see" their providers in real time using a phone or computer, and broader telehealth applications, such as non-invasive remote monitoring, are safe and convenient, and can save money for both employers and employees.

Before the onset of the global health event and social distancing, the healthcare industry largely embraced the ability of telehealth to improve access to care, increase efficiency and prevent hospital readmissions. However, strict government regulations and low interest among patients hindered its adoption.

Now, amidst concerns about COVID-19, with patients wary of visiting health facilities for care ranging from help for minor injuries to mental health care, and lawmakers easing restrictions on coverage for services, demand for telehealth is booming, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Clearly, businesses need to understand both the potential benefits and barriers to adoption of telehealth. Here are three things HR leaders should know.

1. Offset Rising Healthcare Costs

As the cost to employers of healthcare benefits is expected to exceed $15,000 per employee family this year — a projection made by the National Business Group on Health prior to the pandemic — employers are no doubt looking for ways to mitigate their healthcare spend. Bearing more of the financial burden of insurance cost, employees are also looking for ways to cut costs, while still receiving access to care.

While recent laws and regulations — and potentially more on the way — allow for increased access to telehealth during the pandemic, businesses should consider adding these services to their employee benefits packages going forward. Most employers will do so, according to the Business Group, which reports that "virtual care solutions … continue to gain momentum as employers seek different ways to deliver cost effective, quality healthcare while improving access and the consumer experience."

It's important to remember that not all traditional care can be replaced by telehealth — especially many services at the high end of the cost scale. However, a recent study from Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health showed a net cost savings of $19 to $121 per telemedicine visit, so for many typically lower-cost services, telehealth can be a win-win scenario for both employers and employees.

2. Know the Potential Compliance Roadblocks

Telehealth programs provide healthcare services to employees, and even their families. Thus, these programs fall under the definition of a "group health plan" for purposes of federal laws such as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Internal Revenue Code and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), among others.

When offering a telemedicine plan, HR leaders must be sure their plan complies with these federal laws, including documentation requirements and filing requirements (such as Form 5500), as well as any new legislation arising from the response to the COVID pandemic.

Further, if your organization offers a health savings account (HSA) with a high deductible plan, you'll want to follow new safe harbor rules for telehealth and remote care services established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the "CARES Act").

3. Educate Employees

Although telehealth adoption is accelerating due to COVID-19, as with other benefits, simply because your organization offers telehealth doesn't mean that employees will use it — especially when the current situation passes. Organizations must educate their employees on the benefits of virtual medicine and encourage the proper use of the service.

HR leaders have several hats they must wear. Providing a spectrum of benefits while reducing — or maintaining — costs is just one. Incorporating telehealth into that spectrum is one way to provide access to care while managing costs. However, the key to this is educating and encouraging employees to participate and properly utilize these services. If employees do, organizations may see happier, healthier and more productive employees.

Learn about group health insurance options from Automatic Data Processing Insurance Agency, Inc.