During the recent COVID pandemic many people accessed healthcare over the telephone or online for the first time. The use of virtual care is now 38 times higher than before the pandemic and while it’s clear that telehealth can never completely replace in-person doctor visits, there’s no question that for certain services accessing healthcare virtually is here to stay. This short article by One World Cover client services director Michael Pennington will give some pointers on how international schools can take advantage of this new post-COVID trend to lower the long-term costs of your health insurance plan, and increase faculty satisfaction, wellness, mental wellbeing, and healthcare outcomes at the same time.
What is telehealth?
Telehealth, very simply, is where technology meets healthcare. We will be focusing on the one aspect of telehealth which can most benefit your faculty which is “virtual care”, meaning access to a GP/ family physician or psychiatrist/counselor, without an in-person visit. This usually takes the form of a video call (though sometimes on the telephone) with a medical professional. These virtual sessions are usually a fraction of the cost of an in-person doctor visit. Medical facilities are also increasingly supplementing these virtual care sessions with pharmacy delivery, with prescription medications sent to people’s home or workplace. Where previously your staff might have had to take a half-day off to visit the doctor, now everything can be done with a quick phone or video call. I am sure you are starting to see how this new trend can benefit everyone. of information to investigate is the percentage of lives claiming year to date. In plain language, this is the portion of your plan members who have incurred claims so far in your current policy year.
If you are worried about whether your faculty will be concerned about accessing healthcare virtually, please note the following statistics from a 2021 telehealth survey which asked respondents which of the following services they would be willing to use telehealth for:
- 69% reported common illnesses/infections
- 66% reported follow-up visits
- 49% reported “talk therapy” (mental health)
- 44% reported management for a chronic condition
- 24% reported specialist visit
- 18% reported physical therapy
Some of the advantages of telehealth for your school and faculty
For many clinics and hospitals virtual sessions with a doctor are considerably lower cost than in-person visits. For example, virtual care sessions with Beijing United Family Hospital (one of Asia’s most expensive healthcare providers) are priced at Rmb100-200 (~US$15-30) compared with at least Rmb1,000 (~US$150) for a consultation with the same doctor in person. Many health insurance providers are also starting to include virtual sessions as part of their standard service offering, at no extra cost to their members. Whether the cost of these sessions is covered by your health insurance provider or not (more on that below), the fact that online sessions are a fraction of the cost of the in-person sessions can mean significant long-term savings for the school in terms of reduced claims on your health insurance plan. Fewer claims mean lower premiums. Given that most health insurance claims are outpatient claims for common illnesses/infections or follow-up visits for chronic conditions, any savings on these claims can result in significantly reduced claims loss ratios and therefore lower renewal premiums.
For many employees, one of the biggest issues in accessing healthcare is one of convenience. Never mind the time taken at the hospital – if people need to spend an hour in traffic traveling to and from the hospital, a visit to the doctor can easily take up half a day. If your employees can speak with their doctor from the comfort of their home or at their desk during their lunch break, what previously took half a day, now only takes 15 minutes.
Increasingly virtual doctor “visits” are being supplemented with pharmacy delivery. Both health insurance providers and healthcare providers provide such services. While there are sometimes restrictions on certain medications (such as psychotropic medications, liquid medications, vaccines, and those requiring cool storage), common medications such as those used to treat chronic medical conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heartburn can be easily delivered to your employees’ home or place of work. Whereas previously your employees might have needed to take a morning off every three months to visit the doctor just to have a prescription filled, now they can arrange a 15-minute call with a doctor, and arrange for a three month supply of their meds to be delivered to them. Get in touch and we can tell you more about how to access this important service on your health insurance plan.
Improved mental wellbeing
One of the most common telehealth options is counseling. Post-COVID many other specialties have shifted back to being primarily done in-person, whereas mental health services are shifting even more toward virtual care. A 2021 survey by a US-based telehealth provider showed that 84% of psychiatry visits and 88% of psychology visits were conducted remotely. As that telehealth provider’s CEO said: “Unlike physical exams, conversations are easy to conduct virtually, and some people might enjoy the discretion, ease, or efficiency of talking to a therapist from the comfort of their own home”. Visual mental health sessions are one aspect of telehealth that are often covered by health insurance plans as standard so it’s likely that your faculty can take immediate advantage of this. And one often overlooked service provided by nearly all health insurance providers is access to a telephone-based International Employee Assistance Program (IEAP), which usually includes access to 5 counseling sessions for your faculty members each policy year. Get in touch and we can tell you more about how to access this important service on your health insurance plan.
Does your health insurance plan cover telehealth sessions?
Currently, most private health insurance plans in Asia do not cover telehealth or online/virtual sessions as standard, though this is starting to change. In the future (and perhaps not so distant future) it is likely that most health insurance plans will cover them as standard. In the meantime, we would suggest that first you ask One World Cover to negotiate with your health insurance provider to add them to your plan as standard from your next renewal. Given the lower cost of virtual sessions, hopefully they will see the benefit and big picture of the advantages of covering such sessions. Many health insurance providers have their own solutions (sometimes partnering with a healthcare provider) to make online/virtual doctor sessions available to their members, in which case they typically won’t cover sessions at other providers. Sometimes the service is built into their app, just one example of how health insurers are also increasingly relying on telehealth solutions to better serve their customers.
Want to learn more?
If you are concerned your health insurance contract does not adequately meet your needs, is not fully protecting your faculty or is putting your faculty at risk, please get in contact and we can set-up a time to review how we can improve things for you going forward. Thorough contract review and alignment with international schools’ internal policies, hiring practice and culture is just one of the ways we help improve the lives of our client’s faculty, by delivering world-class employee benefits programs, with empathy, warmth and care.