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Three Benefits of eHealth in the Workplace
By John H. Wilson

In this era of skyrocketing medical costs, insurance overhauls, and a shortage of medical professionals, the need for individualized and cost-effective health care options is urgent, to say the least. And for employers facing pressure to provide quality health benefits that are also affordable, eHealth is proving a valuable solution.

According to a survey by the National Business Group on Health, approximately 28% of large companies currently offer telehealth options. In states where telehealth is permitted, that number is expected to jump to 48% in 2015. Health care reform, the widespread use of smartphones and tablets, and a culture of "on-demand" everything have fueled this growth.

People are accustomed to using their phones to shop online, bank online, and now to access health care online. According to Epocrates, 247 million Americans have downloaded at least one health app for their personal use. eHealth at work—and the many benefits it affords both companies and employees—is a natural next step in today's challenging health care environment. Employer benefits include the following:

• Affordability: Urgent care visits run an average of $150, and a trip to the emergency department may cost as much as $1,500. A virtual doctor's visit averages only $50, a significant savings for employees paying out-of-pocket costs and companies providing benefits for an entire workforce.

In fact, a recent study by Towers Watson reports that telehealth could deliver more than $6 billion a year in health care savings to US companies. When done right, telehealth helps patients access the right level of care for minor illnesses such as conjunctivitis, influenza, and respiratory infections; brings down costs for treating common conditions; and frees up emergency departments for more pressing matters.

• Productivity: From an employer's perspective, telehealth has the potential to improve employee health while reducing sick time. Employees are more likely to seek treatment if it's fast, convenient, and affordable—and employee health and well-being directly affect company profitability.

On the other hand, if medical care is pricey or requires a long wait in a doctor's office, employees may decline to seek treatment. In such cases, they may not recover as quickly, and may need to take more time off work. Or, worse, they may show up to work sick, with minimal productivity and a risk of infecting coworkers.

• Patient satisfaction: According to a recent study from eHealth solution provider Stat Doctors, 98% of patients who used the service would recommend it to others. The data also show 60% of patients prefer using their smartphones or tablets for eVisits with their doctors.

It's the combination of quality, convenience, and affordability that garners such high satisfaction. The best telehealth initiatives offer inexpensive, on-demand access to care from home, work, or the road.

— John Wilson is the vice president of business development for Stat Doctors (www.statdoctors.com), an eHealth solution providing 24/7 access to board-certified emergency department physicians via mobile device, computer, or phone, for treatment of minor illnesses and common medical conditions.