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Telemedicine offers convenience for employers and their workforce
Telemedicine is a term used to describe providing clinical healthcare to someone from a remote location, by use of telecommunication and information technology. Today, people are frequently connected online, and they don’t like spending needless time in the doctor’s waiting rooms. Many people prefer to have quick access to medical care for minor, but urgent, health conditions whenever they need it. Telemedicine fits the bill.
 
Have employers jumped on the telemedicine bandwagon yet? A recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation1 found that about three-quarters of large firms offering health insurance now cover “telemedicine,” in some form. That number is up from 27 percent three years ago, suggesting that the trend is growing among employers.
 
About half the large employers surveyed by the National Business Group on Health2 said adopting virtual health care solutions was their “top initiative” in 2019. The nearly 160 companies participating in the survey collectively employ about 13 million people. More employers are moving toward covering virtual care, partly to make health care more convenient for workers who seem to appreciate getting advice for non-emergency medical problems without visiting a doctor’s office.
 
Accessing medical care from virtually anywhere
Embracing the telemedicine trend, Advocate Aurora Health has adopted several telemedicine options, including E-visits and V-visits, where people can receive prompt medical care by consulting with a health care provider online — at home or work or virtually anywhere.
 
The 21st century version of house calls
E-Visits are virtual visits with a physician or nurse practitioner, completed from the comfort of home or work. At Aurora Advocate, the patient fills out a “smart questionnaire” online about the specific symptoms he or she is experiencing. For a flat fee (self-pay), a provider evaluates the condition(s), offering a diagnosis and a treatment plan. A secure message with that information is sent to the patient through Advocate Aurora’s patient portal (myAdvocateAurora).
 
With Advocate Aurora’s Video visits, people communicate with a healthcare professional via live video conferencing, using a computer or mobile device. For a flat fee (self-pay), patients “see” and communicate with the provider and receive:
• a medical diagnosis and treatment plan
• prescriptions, if needed
• recommendations for follow-up care
 
Video and E-visits visits are appropriate for routine ailments, such as:
• cold or flu symptoms
• allergies
• pinkeye
• bronchitis
• skin problems
• diarrhea
• sinus infections
 
They are not appropriate for serious symptoms such as chest pain, signs of stroke, etc.
 
Video and E-visits can be useful in workplace settings. If an employee suffers a non-life-threating injury at work — bumps, bruises, cuts, strains and sprains — a video visit can be more cost-effective than having the worker leave work to seek medical treatment. This can be especially appealing to employers in rural settings, where occupational health services may be limited or are inconvenient for shift workers with irregular schedules.
 
A digital “concierge” in the palm of your hands
When someone is deciding whether or not they need medical attention, a new digital “concierge” at Advocate Aurora’s can help them decide. A chatbot called Symptom Checker uses artificial intelligence (AI) to understand natural language and the user’s intent. If the user types something like “My eight-year-old son has a fever,” the bot asks appropriate follow-up questions about that person’s symptoms.
 
Symptom Checker offers possible causes and suggests an appropriate treatment venue (urgent care, seeing a primary care provider, or staying home to rest). If the user decides to seek medical care, he or she can click though on Symptom Checker to reserve a place in line at an Advocate Aurora urgent care location.
 
Symptom Checker isn’t a substitute for a physician visit. It simply helps people make informed decisions about their symptoms, and suggests the most appropriate level of care.
 
None of the telemedicine options mentioned above replace the need for having a primary care provider and seeing that person for most health care needs. These online options are designed to be extensions of the medical care people receive in traditional, face-to-face health settings.
 
There are many other new, innovative telemedicine projects underway at Advocate Aurora. As soon as these projects become fully operational, readers of this publication will have an opportunity to learn more about them.
 
Betsy Winga, is Advocate Aurora’s Medical Group Director of Efficiency and Optimization, Manitowoc County
 
12018 Employer Health Benefits Survey. (2018, October 03). Retrieved March 06, 2019, from https://www.kff.org/health-costs/report/2018-employer-health-benefits-survey/
 
2Large U.S. Employers Eye Changes to Health Care Delivery System. (2018, August 07). Retrieved March 6, 2019, from https://www.businessgrouphealth.org/news/nbgh-news/press-releases/press-release-details/?ID=348
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