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Why Employers Care

The Health Resources and Services Administration defines telehealth as "the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration."1 Examples of telehealth include:

  • Specialists using videoconferencing to conduct consultations with patients;
  • Physicians transmitting diagnostic imaging to another to obtain a second-opinion;
  • Providers using devices to capture clinical data to allow for remote patient monitoring; and
  • Patients using the Internet to obtain health information or provide peer support.

As the demand for health care services grows in the U.S., telehealth will likely play an important role in increasing access to care and improving care efficiencies. Telehealth may improve care management by improving patient-physician communication and allowing physicians to remotely monitor patients. It also has the potential to facilitate team-based, multidisciplinary care. Such improved care coordination can improve the quality of care delivered and reduce redundancies and inefficiencies.

What Can Employers Do?

A number of health plans now offer telehealth programs that diagnose and treat acute, non-urgent health issues. The scope of services, functionality, capabilities and cost of these programs vary. Employers should consider if such programs can meet an unfilled need for employee health care services that are easily accessible, lower in cost than urgent care centers or emergency rooms and are available during hours when many physicians' offices are closed.

Employers considering implementing a telehealth program as a part of their benefits package must use the same diligence that they use in making all health benefit decisions. Because these programs are still new, there is limited research available on the quality of care provided and if they adhere to evidence-based protocols.

Relevant Tools and Resources Include:

References (show references)

1 Health Resources and Services Administration. Telehealth. Accessed June 4, 2012.

Page last updated: September 29, 2014

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