From the perspective of the American employee, our healthcare system is in trouble. If the worker has health insurance, the exorbitant and rising costs of care require extensive out-of-pocket resources that can lead many people with a serious illness into bankruptcy. The average wait times for even routine care are increasing and workers that live in rural communities face extensive travel to reach a specialist in an urban setting.
This article looks at the healthcare experiences of our nation’s labor force and how telemedicine can solve many of the problems that make receiving treatment a challenge.
What Happens to Workers Without Sick Days?
The American worker is dissatisfied with their healthcare benefits and the systems that provide treatment. According to Gallup, only 16% of our country’s employed workers say they are satisfied with the costs of healthcare coverage. Almost three-quarters of employed Americans say our healthcare system is in a state of crisis.
Receiving treatment is less convenient than ever before. The Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) reports that the average wait time for new patient appointments has increased by 30% since 2014. Today the national average wait time for a primary care or specialty visit is 32 days. With the physician shortage looming, likely these wait times will only increase.
For the typical American worker, it’s not just the high costs and increasing wait times that make receiving healthcare problematic. Taking time off work can be expensive if their job doesn’t offer sick leave; Health Affairs says these workers are three times more likely to skip medical treatment. This happens more than you might imagine; one in three private sector workers and seven out of ten low-wage workers do not have paid sick time.
Given that these workers are often the poorest laborers in rural communities that lack specialty care, how do these employees cope when they get sick? The answer is that working people without paid sick time go to work with a contagious illness. They skip preventative treatments that could lead to early detection of chronic and serious illness like cancer.
What is the solution to these serious problems plaguing our nation’s workers? When access to care is problematic, telemedicine offers new ways to receive treatment in a quick, cost-effective, and convenient format that benefits the American worker and their employers.
Telemedicine Benefits for the American Workforce
Telemedicine today is as close as your favorite handheld personal device. The technology uses the Internet to bring together patients and doctors electronically, eliminating the need to travel to a remote office location.
Even for the American worker with paid time off, whose schedule is crammed with meetings, deadlines, and family commitments, this technology has the benefit of scheduling convenience and lower cost. But for the U.S. workforce with no paid time off, there is a strong economic benefit. That’s because telehealth brings healthcare to the people, not the other way around. This means that our most vulnerable workforce that lacks the benefit of paid time off can still receive clinical treatment with the touch of a button on a laptop, tablet, or mobile device. Some of the biggest benefits for both types of workers include:
- The convenience of scheduling a visit when you need it. Whether the issue is a schedule packed with meetings or the inability to afford a babysitter or time off work, telemedicine offers the value of convenience to patients. Workers can receive treatment via a video, web chat, audio call, or even a HIPPA-compliant text or email. Telemedicine is particularly effective for those middle-of-the-night childcare crises that too-often necessitate a costly trip to the ER.
- Less time spent waiting for care means less time off work, which has an economic benefit for workers and their employers. Telemedicine cuts the travel associated with receiving care. For people living in rural communities, this could be considerable. It also eliminates having to wait for your doctor. Whether the worker has a paid time off benefit or is missing work and losing pay, cutting the time spent sitting in a waiting room is a desirable side effect of the telemedicine visit.
- More cost-effective care means that doctors are charging less for the telemedicine visit than they would for an in-person appointment. That’s because telehealth cuts overhead costs in the medical practice, saving doctors both time and money. Telemedicine also reduces travel expenses and time off work. Receiving healthcare today can also run up childcare expenses or even require an overnight stay for a patient living in a rural community with no access to specialty care. Telemedicine brings the doctor to the patient in a virtual house call, saving each patient and their doctors both time and money.
- Immediate access to care for a workplace injury via a telemedicine app. Workplace safety is a huge concern for employers and their workers. Telemedicine for workers compensation is the newest application of the technology and it is being used today to provide immediate care for blue-collar employees like building maintenance, factory, construction, or other workers that are injured on the job. Even nursing aides and police officers can benefit from the immediate response to a workplace injury and employers are increasingly making use of telehealth tools to diagnose and treat on-the-job safety incidents.
Since access to care is one of the biggest benefits of telemedicine, the issue of who can afford the broadband connection necessary to receive treatment via the Internet? The answer today is almost everyone.
Pew Research says the number of broadband users in the United States has greatly increased in the last decade; three-quarters of the entire population have the Internet at home. Another Pew finding showed that 96% of Americans now own a cellphone. While this speaks highly to the widespread potential accessibility of telemedicine for these consumers, it still leaves approximately four percent of our patients behind.
What about the worker that doesn’t have access to digital devices? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced this year a $100 million Connected Care Pilot program to promote telehealth to underserved populations. The service would defray the cost of purchasing Internet service for low-income patients and veterans. The proposed program would cover up to 85% of the costs for these services, connecting patients directly to their doctors.
The American worker today faces huge challenges and receiving access to healthcare is just one of them. But telemedicine can be the great equalizer, bringing healthcare to all workers regardless of their income status.
OrthoLive is one of the latest in a wave of healthcare providers offering these tools to employers, physicians, and the American workforce. Our service provides on-call, workers compensation, and a convenient telemedicine application orthopedic practices. Contact us to find out more.