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Aug, 15 2017

Do you value telehealth as a cost-containment tool? 

The National Business Group on Health just released their fifth annual Large Employer Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey. Virtually all their respondents (96%) claimed they’ll offer telehealth services in 2018. 

While this is the highest survey we’ve seen, clearly employers see the benefit as a valid strategy to provide access to quality care and offset increasing costs – both of which are challenges for employers and employees alike. However, as these new solutions and strategies are adopted, if you’re not getting an ROI, have you really solved the problem?

The survey referenced this, too, when it found that 80% of their respondents were achieving less than 8% engagement (meaning less than 8 telehealth visits for every 100 employees).

So, how do you get true ROI from telehealth? The answer is simple: you make sure it gets used! The tactics to get usage aren’t always that simple. When telehealth is strategically implemented, it will divert claims from the health plan, thereby delivering a positive ROI.

Based on my experience, I’m sharing three keys to driving telehealth utilization to deliver real savings…

1. Education, education, education 

This is hands-down a must-have. Both at the point of installation and with ongoing messaging, the end user needs to understand two key things: 1) how easy the service is to use and 2) how it will save them money. Really, who can’t use more of that in their lives? 

Sharing real stories from members is one simple and impactful way to educate. Ongoing communication that highlights how and when to use the services is another. In a recent survey from our freshbenies members, over 50% reported convenience and ease of use as their favorite thing about our services. Education is the key to encourage members to experience the benefit and its value. Without it, employees won’t engage.

Consumerism tools that deliver savings

2. Effective plan design 

Multiple studies - as well as our own utilization numbers - show that if you charge members a fee at the time of service, it has a dramatically negative impact on their willingness to try it. How much? Studies vary, but plans will see between 50% and 400% more visits if they install a plan with $0 cost per visit, rather than a standard $45 cost per visit.

It only makes sense, right? How likely are you to try a service for the first time if it won’t cost you anything, versus if there’s a fee associated with it? That first use is critical and a plan designed with a low or no additional fee removes a major barrier. 

3. Delivery - the key driver

Let’s be honest. A program delivered as just one more embedded piece of the health plan – and that isn’t really promoted - is not going to drive great usage. You not only lose the member engagement piece due to lack of education, you lose the effectiveness of the plan design. Embedded carrier plans get 2% average utilization and stand-alone telehealth programs typically get about 7%. Compare that to a solution with a comprehensive delivery strategy like freshbenies that gets an AVERAGE 58% telehealth use.

If the method of delivery doesn’t drive use, you lose the value of truly removing claims from the health plan. And, you fail to deliver employees much-needed access to care along with out-of-pocket cost savings

I recently attended a meeting at the Benefits Mania conference in Las Vegas. Allan Khoury, MD, PHD with Willis Towers Watson, stated that telehealth represents 1.25 million visits each year. While that sounds like a sizable number, it’s still less than 1% of all out-patient procedures performed each year. He emphasized the point to show telehealth numbers have a staggering ability to grow, and with the given rate of adoption by employers, it will grow. The key to deliver your clients real savings is to find a partner who provides all 3 of the key components to drive employee engagement. 

BONUS: Click here to download a checklist of top Telehealth questions you should ask to identify the best value for your clients and their employees.  

Now it’s your turn! What successes have you seen with telehealth as a strategic part of the health plan strategy? How and when do you bring it into the renewal conversation? Comment below.

Jo Ann

For over 20 years, Jo Ann has been helping brokers and employers develop strategies and benefit programs for their clients and employees. She takes a consultative, holistic approach to benefit design by providing relevant solutions for employees and ultimately cost savings for the employers. She can be reached at

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Tanya Boyd
Tanya Boyd
President of Tanya Boyd & Associates

I didn’t want to go to urgent care or the ER. Using Doctors Online in my freshbenies membership, I went online to ask a doctor. The doctor responded and said to check my blood pressure. He followed up with the next day to make sure my numbers were OK. By then, the feeling was starting to go away. He told me if it persists to contact my doctor. It was great that I didn’t have to go somewhere and wait forever, and it was free.” - Kelli from Texas

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Marta from NC
Marta from NC

On Christmas Eve, I woke up extremely sick. I spoke to a doctor using my freshbenies membership and he prescribed medicine right away.





I was able to enjoy the holidays with my family. I've been using the freshbenies app ever since.