E-health partnership eases some healthcare burdens for one employer

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WASHINGTON—The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a Virginia-based organization that represents more than 900 electric cooperatives throughout the U.S., was having a hard time engaging its employees in healthcare. The group’s membership is spread out around the country, and Walmart often was the go-to source for a number of health needs. For many members, the nearest hospital was two hours away.

That’s what prompted Jodi Fuller, NRECA’s vice president of benefits product development and management, to considering partnering with an e-health provider to get her members access to the care they need. After choosing Teladoc in 2016, Fuller put in place an “aggressive” pilot communications plan to get the word out to employees, she said recently at the National Business Group on Health Business Health Agenda in Washington. Teladoc uses telephone and videoconferencing technology to provide on-demand remote medical care via mobile devices, the internet, video and phone.

The campaign began in December 2016 with postcards that were sent to members’ homes. In January, members received an invitation to register. Emails were sent as well, but Fuller said the strongest engagement came from conversations members had with one another.

“The word of mouth in the pilot group was a really strong engagement message,” she said. “If I used Teladoc and had a good experience, I’d tell three other people. You can’t pay for that kind of communication or advertising support.”

As an incentive, the first 1,500 members to register got a soup mug (with Teladoc phone number), which was really popular, Fuller said.

Another useful incentive to get members to utilize Teladoc was incorporating it into the association’s health plan. For members on the PPO plan, there was no deductible for using Teladoc. HDHP plan members paid $45 before the deductible when using the e-health platform.

The success data from the pilot was pretty astounding, Fuller said: For every dollar spent, NRECA saved $6. And the utilization of Teladoc was at 15%, well above the national average utilization rate of 2%-3%, she added.

This year will be the first full year of the program, Fuller said, and NRECA is optimistic. Right now the organization uses Teladoc just for urgent care needs, but the tool also has the capability to address behavioral and mental health issues.

“We’ll step gingerly; we want to see the value for our members,” she said. “For our culture, [the product being] free wasn’t the issue. And it hasn’t been yet. We have a very old-school population, and change is very hard. This was the carrot: If you just try it, we know you’ll have a good experience.”

The benefit wasn’t impacting just her rural population, she said. “Some of our locations are in urban cities, and the real issue there is around productivity.

“Instead of getting in the car and going to urgent care, employees can save time,” she said.

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