Healthcare by phone is convenient and can save money for both employers and employees.

By the end 2018, the telehealth market is expected to hit 7 million patient users, which has skyrocketed from 350,000 users in 2013, reports Becker's Health IT & CIO Review. Globally, this market is expected to hit $36.2 billion by 2020, according to Becker's Health IT & CIO Review. Most employers (96 percent) will offer telehealth services within their employee benefits offerings in 2018, according to Healthcare Finance.

These statistics show the stunning growth of the telemedicine industry and the rapid implementation of the technology. But why the growth? "Drivers for the rapid adoption growth include the desire to improve access to care, improve care coordination, increase efficiency, prevent readmissions and expand population health programs," reports Hospitals & Health Networks.

How does this transfer to HR departments? Here are three things HR leaders should know as we move into 2018.

1. Offset Rising Health Care Costs

With health care benefits rising another 5 percent, according to Healthcare Finance, employers are no doubt looking for ways to mitigate their health care spend. Bearing more of the financial burden of insurance cost, employees are also looking for ways to cut costs, while still receiving access to health care. Consider offering telemedicine to your employee benefits packages. "Telemedicine can help lower costs associated with non-emergent emergency department utilization and reduce fragmentation by preserving and building on existing primary care relationships or establishing new ones," reports Healthcare Finance. It's a win-win scenario when both employers and employees can save money. According to The Balance, the average cost of a telemedicine visit is around $50, whereas an emergency room visit can cost $650. With employees bearing more of the cost of health benefits, the costs of services affects employees' pocketbooks as well.

2. Know the Potential Compliance Roadblocks

Telehealth programs provide health care 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 that their plan complies with these federal laws, including documentation requirements and filing requirements (such as Form 5500). Further, if your organization offers a health savings account (HSA) with a high deductible plan, your organization must examine the cost of the telemedicine services to make sure you comply with HSA rules.

3. Educate Employees

One area serving as a barrier to telehealth services is low utilization by employees. The Balance reports that 88 percent of telemedicine users were new users, whereas on 12 percent of users were regular users who substituted the virtual care for their doctors. As with other benefits, simply because your organization offers it doesn't mean that employees will use it. 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 full spectrum of benefits while reducing — or maintaining — costs is just one. Incorporating telehealth into that spectrum is one way to achieve providing access to care while reducing, or maintaining, health care 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.

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Tags: Healthcare Voluntary Benefits