Virtual medical services are gaining traction in Canada leading to questions as to whether such services should be considered as an additional perk in employee benefits packages.
These services, also known as telemedicine, are the latest trend in healthcare offerings and allow patients to connect with nurses and family doctors across the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Practitioners can complete a consultation, make a diagnosis, write a prescription (where appropriate) and email it to the patient’s pharmacy of choice (and if that pharmacy provides home delivery then the medication is delivered directly to the patient’s door). Doctors will only consult on a list of common ailments — such as earaches, pinkeye and urinary tract infections — and will only prescribe non-narcotic medications.
‘See’ a nurse or doctor without leaving home
In a nutshell, telemedicine services mean a patient can ‘see’ a nurse or doctor without having to make an appointment, miss work and sit in a waiting room.
(It’s important to understand that telemedicine services are different than telehealth services. Many provinces, including Ontario, offer a free telephone service that allows residents to seek advice from a Registered Nurse. This nurse cannot provide a diagnosis or write prescriptions.)
However, while visiting a doctor’s office is covered by provincial healthcare plans (such as OHIP), using a telemedicine service is not. These services typically offer annual memberships as well as pay-per-use plans. Which brings us back to whether they should be included in your employee group benefits plan.
Weighing the ROI
But what’s your return on investment on such a benefits expense?
For businesses in the United States, the answer is easier to work out. That’s because in the U.S., healthcare is an out-of-pocket expense for residents and is often included in employee benefits plans. A visit to an urgent care centre for a minor ailment can be an expensive employee health insurance claim; a visit to a virtual medical service for the same ailment is far cheaper, thereby reducing healthcare claim costs.
In the U.S., employers are rapidly adopting telemedicine. According to research by Towers Watson, 38% of employers with more than 1,000 employees were offering the benefit at the end of 2015. That number was expected to grow to 81% by this year.
But the adoption rate is not the same in Canada because an employee’s visit to a doctor’s office is covered by provincial healthcare plans and does not affect a business’s employee health insurance claim costs — it simply results in lost time.
Does telemedicine fit within your company’s philosophy?
So is telemedicine a worthy perk to include in your employee benefits plan? While we can’t provide a definitive answer, we can offer a few questions to consider:
At Thorpe Benefits, we pride ourselves in offering custom solutions related to wellness education and health promotion. We intend to continue examining the available virtual medical services here in Canada so that we can help our clients determine a viable business case and help them make the best possible decisions.
Contributed by Deborah Evans
Partner at Thorpe
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