With an ever-increasing appeal for on-demand services and resources, telemedicine fits perfectly in the fast-paced world in which we live.

Telemedicine is the latest in technology that brings individuals immediate, on-the-spot access to state-licensed physicians. By using ICT (information and communication technology), telemedicine brings patients and doctors together via video-based resources, for consults and visits anytime, anywhere in the world.

By funding services such as telemedicine, fully insured employers may not see a financial return on investment. Costs can be anywhere from $5–$15 per employee, per month, but there is in fact a very valuable benefit to employers in offering value-added services at their expense that often gets overlooked.

Looking at this from an employee’s perspective, having the comfort of knowing there are diagnostic options available aside from the emergency room can bring reassurance, relief and security. Anyone who has ever been faced with the dilemma of whether or not to rush to the nearest urgent care or emergency room can appreciate the piece of mind this can bring.

After all, why spend hours and possibly thousands of dollars — depending on your health plan — for a nonemergency issue when one could simply turn to telemedicine and receive an immediate diagnosis?

So what’s in it for the fully insured employer? The No. 1 benefit is that they are putting a highly valuable tool in their employee’s toolbox, which in turn gives employees a stronger sense of loyalty toward the company. A study done by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) shows that when value-added services that focus on specific areas of an employee’s life are offered by the employer, the likelihood of that employee staying with the company increases exponentially. Employer-paid resources such as child care, tuition reimbursement, domestic-partner benefits, etc. require a much higher investment, especially when compared to programs with a low, flat monthly rate such as telemedicine.

For larger self-funded employers, this resource can be used to your advantage financially as well as an investment in employee retention. When an employer is self-funded it takes on 100 percent financial responsibility of health claims for their employees.

While stop-loss coverage provides the employer with different levels of financial protection in order to limit their exposure, a more engaged approach could include a service like telemedicine. Receiving an immediate diagnosis, or again, a piece of mind consult could very likely prevent an employee from rushing to the nearest hospital and incurring large claims.

Coupled with other cost-saving wellness strategies, telemedicine could potentially play a huge role in taking control of a self-funded employer’s insurance costs.

It’s important to note that telemedicine can offer more than an on-demand consultation with a physician. Telemedicine can also include at-home monitoring (through the use of medical devices collecting vital signs, etc.), collaboration between primary care physicians and specialists, and even online support groups among patients.

With a growing interest and demand for this service, the insurance industry is seeing health insurance companies start to promote this model by offering similar services.

Andrew McNeil is a principal with Arrow Benefits Group (arrowbenefitsgroup,com), a benefits consulting and brokerage company in Petaluma.