Understanding the Different Types of Telehealth Services
Telehealth. Telemedicine. Teladoc. Tell me the difference. In this blog, we’ll aim to do just that. First, we’ll address the difference between the terms "telehealth" and "telemedicine."
Telehealth vs. telemedicine
Telehealth is different from telemedicine in that it refers to a broader scope of remote health care services and education. It can include provider training, administrative meetings and continuing medical education.
Telemedicine, a type of telehealth, is more specific, referring to remote clinical services, while telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services. With that out of the way, we will look at the different types of telehealth, and how telehealth services differ from Teladoc, as well as the approximate costs associated with each.
Stephanie Rosenberger, Client Services Director at KIG, sees many people use the terms “telehealth” and “Teladoc” interchangeably, but there are important distinctions. “It’s really important to understand that they’re not interchangeable because they’re not the same thing.”
Telehealth services have really grown in popularity in recent years, and like with a lot of things, the COVID-19 pandemic is a big reason why, Stephanie says. “Telehealth has evolved so much over time that it is becoming a way of life now. And COVID accelerated the trend.” To make it more attractive and accessible, the co-pay for these services was waived during the height of the pandemic, though that has since expired.
Generally, telehealth services are offered through insurance carriers to a group health insurance plan, Stephanie says. Using these services usually means a small co-pay, although in some instances, they are free, depending on the type of plan you have, she says.
With most insurance carriers’ plans, there are three tiers of telehealth services to choose from, and the co-pay varies depending on which one you use. Any applicable co-pays are charged to your debit or credit card.
- Virtual waiting room. Dial in and wait for the doctor du jour (like going to Urgent Care, except you don’t have to leave your house). The co-pay for this service will be the lowest of the three options.
- You can also make a virtual appointment to avoid the wait (like a scheduled Zoom call). If your primary care physician is in the telehealth network offered by your insurance carrier, you can use your own doctor. This typically comes with a higher co-pay than the virtual waiting room option.
- You can also make a virtual appointment with the specialist du jour or with your own specialist if, again, that doctor is in your network for telehealth services. This will be the highest co-pay of the three options.
Still, these options are typically cheaper than what you’d pay for a traditional trip to a doctor’s office. Plus, it can be faster, and you don’t have to drive anywhere – or get dressed for that matter.
“Most insurance carriers have a telehealth element baked into their program, and it’s either free or has a lower co-pay than an in-person PCP visit or using Teladoc,” Stephanie says. “But not all telehealth plans are created equally, so there’s going to be different nuances, and you have to know what’s available through your carrier to know what services are offered.”
By contrast, Teladoc is a specific company that offers more robust telemedicine services that are sold to an employer and offered to its employees. Teladoc is a trademarked name -- like Kleenex vs. tissues, Jello vs. gelatin, or Band-Aid vs., well, does anyone really call them anything other than Band-Aids?
Unlike telehealth services that are included through an insurance carrier’s health plan, Teladoc is ancillary, and your company has to sponsor it. Most employers that offer Teladoc pay for it – making it free for employees -- and others offer it but pass the cost on to their employees. In Stephanie’s experience, the cost to employers is about $16 per employee per month, whether the services are utilized or not.
Teladoc can connect you (virtually, of course) with medical experts in a variety of fields that may not be available through all telehealth programs. Aside from access to PCPs and specialists, Teladoc includes features like behavioral health, dermatology, nutrition appointments and smoking cessation. Some even have veterinary services!
So why would an employer choose to offer Teladoc?
For starters, employers with a self-funded health plan that do not have a carrier may want to offer Teladoc, since telehealth services would not be an option in that case. Same with an employer that offers an ICHRA in lieu of a traditional group health plan.
Here’s another for instance: employees who are on a probationary period (which by law can be up to 90 days) before they are allowed to enroll in a group health plan. They could use Teladoc during this period, which would be like having insurance – for free if their employer pays for it. Granted, an employee in this scenario would not have prescription drug coverage, but prescriptions to treat common ailments are usually not very expensive.
So, which service you choose to offer really depends on the needs of your employees. If you are interested in learning more about these options, feel free to reach out to Stephanie at firstname.lastname@example.org -- and reference this blog!
This may also be of interest to you: Temporary Telehealth Returns for HSAs.