Survey: 8 percent of employees used a telemedicine service last year

By Aditi Pai
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Some 8 percent of employees used a telemedicine offering in their employee wellness program, according to a survey of 5,000 people employed by nongovernment organizations with 1,000 or more employees.

Towers Watson Health and Group Benefits Senior Health Management Consultant Shelly Wolff, who presented this data at the National Conference on Health, Productivity and Human Capital in Boston this week, said that although just 8 percent of employees are participating in telemedicine, she predicts this percentage will increase quite dramatically in the next couple years.

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Almost half of the employees are engaging in the programs that have been around the longest, Wolff said. These programs include health risk assessments and biometric screenings. The survey also found that a slightly larger number of employees, 11 percent, accessed online information. In total, 50 percent of employees participated in some kind of well-being activity or health-related program in the last year.

When asked what digital tools are very important to manage their health, 36 percent said websites with ratings of doctors and hospitals, 29 percent said wearable devices to monitor fitness activity, 21 percent said apps to monitor a health condition, 26 percent apps to track diet, 25 percent said a price comparison site for health products and services, and 19 percent said apps to track sleep and relaxation.

"One of the top areas that companies are focused on is website ratings of physicians and hospitals," Wolff said. "That has not popped up before like this so that was very interesting that we've got more high deductible health plans, they're getting the quality issue, and good for them, they're actually going out and looking."

Although participants are interested in digital tools, participation in these programs is low. On average, Wolff said, $880 in incentives being offered, and just $365 are being paid out. She also said 40 percent of employees didn't earn any incentives at all and opted out of the program entirely. This percentage is higher than it was last year.

"Part of it is people give up, they feel like it's not worth it, it's too hard, it's difficult, we added complexity," Wolff said. "But that's a big disengagement number. And only 42 percent actually earn the maximum."

A majority of employees, 71 percent, said they agree or strongly agree that they prefer to manage their own health and 46 percent said they don't want their employer to have access to their personal health information. Another reason why employees do not participate is that the right programs aren't offered -- 32 percent said initiatives offered by employers do not meet their needs.

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