Precious Witherspoon poses for a portrait at the PowerReviews office on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016 in Chicago. Witherspoon is an employee who uses her company's telemedicine benefit at work. (Kristen Norman/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

More Employers Are Offering Telemedicine, But Why Aren’t Workers Using It?

By Lisa Schencker
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Many say telemedicine is a win for companies and employees alike. If a worker gets sick with a minor illness when the doctor’s office is closed, or if the employee doesn’t have a primary care doctor, telemedicine is an alternative to an urgent care facility or emergency room. In telemedicine, health care is delivered remotely via phone, video or other technologies. That can mean less time away from work, and can sometimes save workers, insurers and their employers, cash.

CHICAGO

Precious Witherspoon’s throat felt increasingly raw and her head began to hurt as the workday wore on.

But Witherspoon, an executive assistant at Chicago-based PowerReviews, didn’t want to call in sick the next day and haul herself to a doctor’s office to hear what she already suspected, that she had strep throat.

Instead, she dialed First Stop Health on her drive home from work and described her symptoms to a doctor who sent a prescription to her pharmacy. She paid nothing for the consultation.

“It saved me a lot of extra time and energy,” Witherspoon said. She estimates she’s used First Stop Health, offered as a benefit by her employer, at least half a dozen times over the last year.

Employees wish more of their workers would do the same. This fall, employees across the country might notice their employers touting so-called telemedicine, in which health care is delivered remotely via phone, video or other technologies, as they gear up for insurance open enrollment. Telemedicine often is offered in addition to or as part of traditional insurance benefits, and some telemedicine companies bypass employers entirely, offering it directly to consumers.

So far, employees haven’t warmed to the idea, either because they don’t understand it, don’t know it’s available or because they’re skeptical of getting a doctor’s opinion via telephone. Telemedicine accounted for only about 1 million of 1.2 billion outpatient medical visits last year, according to brokerage and consultancy Willis Towers Watson.

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