By Danny Talley 

It’s 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning and your baby has a severe cough that just won’t quit accompanied by an escalating fever. Your first inclination is to haul yourselves out into the night to the local hospital emergency room before it gets worse. At a time like this, who’s thinking about their co-pay or deductible?

It’s natural and only human to want immediate relief when you or a member of the family is not feeling well. And at that time of critical need, the actions of your employees are frequently contrary to the point constantly being communicated to them: be good consumers of healthcare. Don’t use the emergency room or urgent care center in lieu of a doctor’s office.

The fact is that most of us want to feel better now.

Such instant gratification is possible for those who have access to a telehealth voluntary benefit plan. It’s just what the doctor ordered – especially since over 72 percent of all doctor’s office visits (typically involving an average 24 day wait) and 60 percent of emergency room trips could be treated over the phone.

As the number of primary care physicians shrinks, telehealth is a quicker, more cost effective resource for employees and employers. All it takes is a telephone call or video chat to be connected with a board-certified, U.S.-based physician. The vast majority has a private practice, a minimum of 15 years of experience and follow stringent guidelines as well as protocols on prescriptions.

After years of talk about the need to shift our healthcare system from a provider-centric model to one that is consumer-oriented, telehealth benefits are making that new paradigm a reality. It’s a shift that enables employers to respond more effectively to their employees’ dual concerns of convenience and cost management.

Some employers see it as a way to give back to their employees by reducing the potential for lost wages for an employee who misses work to go to a doctor.  Telehealth benefits are a huge advantage for employees, and not just because it provides almost instant access, to board-certified, U.S.-based physicians.

It’s an inexpensive voluntary benefit that answers employees’ pressing need for assistance in closing the gap between higher healthcare premiums and deductibles and their escalating out-of-pocket healthcare costs. A 2015 Harvard Medical School study found savings for using telehealth versus in-office or emergency room care can reach as high as $1,157 per patient, per consult. A significant portion of this cost will fall on the employee who may not have the extra money on hand to cover these expenses.

And while often offered as a voluntary benefit, some studies project that as many as 80 percent of all employers will offer telehealth benefits as a group benefit by 2018. It’s an inexpensive program to integrate into their benefits packages. Plus, over time, it delivers great returns in the form of substantially lower costs for emergency room visits that drive up employer premiums.

Once employees understand how telehealth benefits work, they’re hooked. Some employers make a good thing better by adjusting the co-pays on their telehealth benefits plans to a nominal amount, if not zero. That helps boost engagement even as it relieves their workers’ financial pressures even more.

To learn how to structure a telehealth benefits plan for your organization, contact your Hub employee benefits advisor today.