‘Virtual’ Health Care and The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has prompted changes in the U.S. health insurance system that has both employers and employees focused on costs. Encouraging employees to take control of some of their health care decisions keeps them involved in the process, and “virtual” health care initiatives can help employers and employees control costs by providing answers to noncritical questions quickly and remotely, via online portals, apps or other remote technologies.

Cost containment is one of the big factors pushing technological initiatives in health benefits, says Duane Boise, president and chief executive officer of the EMED division of health technology, which oversees emedhealthtechnology.com, the company’s telemedicine initiative. In addition, employee productivity has helped pique interest in high-tech solutions for getting answers to medical questions.

“When we look at our staff, it’s clear how many days we save in productivity when we have a medical question and ask the doctor online and not have to lose time taking off work,” Boise explains. “If you look at why patients go to see doctors, it’s because they’re not sure if they have something that’s problematic. With EMED telemedicine, they can take a picture of what’s bothering them, send it and get an answer within the hour.” Technology has been making advances in health care for some time, Boise says, but it’s only recently that it’s been helping patients manage their own health. “The emergence of the electronic medical record (EMR) has made it easy to track and bill, but it doesn’t really help the patient. EMR isn’t telemedicine, it’s just tracking.”

But now telemedicine is moving from tracking patients through the system to focusing on innovations such as online care plans, where a specialist can view a patient’s personal health record and suggest things to improve that patient’s lifestyle or treatment from anywhere with Internet access. Another option is a curbside consultation, where someone with an injury may need to see a specialist, but instead of waiting for months, they can get an appointment at a nearby doctor and get an answer the same day. “It takes the burden off the health care system,” Boise says. “Employers who provide a service similar to EMED TELEMEDICINE can give employees a chance to take care of their own health issues.
People leave work when they’re worried about family members who aren’t feeling well and might need medication,” Boise says. “They’re looking for answers about their children, especially if they’re a new parent.” “An employee who needs to leave for an earache and have it examined at a clinic may be gone for three hours,” Boise says. “But by using our EMED TELEMEDICINE SERVICE, the employee can log in from work and ask about the problem online. While the doctor still might have the employee come in for an exam, it can cut down on ‘what if’ appointments that aren’t necessary.
The ROI is much higher when you factor in something like lost work days.” “Employees see a lot of value in personalized medical advice,” Boise says, and “it can help minimize the unnecessary use of over-the-counter medicines and other services. Having access to medical information and advice no matter where people are can also provide peace of mind when traveling or relocating.”

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