Three Reasons Telemedicine Utilization Remains So Low


Nearly 85 percent of people with employer-provided health insurance in the United States have access to some level of telemedicine. But hardly any of them use it. Why is that?

Many of the problems in this industry stem from a “check the box” mentality. Currently, most health insurers, employee benefits brokers, and employers have the mentality that being able to say that telemedicine is provided is sufficient. They are not closely evaluating the solutions and competitors. Unfortunately, this mindset has led to multiple problems in the industry, all of which result in low utilization. Let’s examine three ways this has happened.

1. Lack of education for end-users

Since few of these stakeholders are spending much time on telemedicine, they aren’t educating employees on how, when, or why to use the service. Without building awareness and understanding, employees will not change their behavior.

Employers need to view telemedicine as a strategic benefit that when deployed effectively, can reduce costs, medical absenteeism (time off work for medical care), and medical presenteeism (coming into work sick and infecting others). Not to mention that employees can also save money, time, and hassle.

Only when brokers and employers understand the strategic importance of telemedicine will they invest in educating their employees.

2. Emphasis on lowest upfront cost instead of best value

Another effect of a “check the box” mentality is that instead of focusing on value, brokers and employers are simply choosing the lowest cost telemedicine option. But like anything else in life, you get what you pay for. The cheapest solutions are rarely the best, even if they have the greatest market.

In fact, some telemedicine solutions are free so that the companies can maintain market share. Either they are sold through a health insurance plan (where any costs are built into the overall premium, making it seem “free” to the employer and employee), or the company gives it away for free and operates at a loss. These companies are backed by outside investment, giving them more time to become profitable.

By focusing on lowest upfront cost, employers are missing an opportunity to find a solution that actually works well for their employees. Instead, they may get a benefit no one uses.

3. Unsatisfactory service

Because of the emphasis on the lowest upfront cost and the lack of education, many users have bad experiences when they try telemedicine. Without understanding when or why to use the solution, they may not use it appropriately or have proper expectations. A super low-cost solution may have long wait times, complicated sign ups, or fees/co-pays charged per consultation.

They end up walking away from their telemedicine experience with a negative opinion (if they even get all the way to a consultation).

Don’t Just “Check the Box” on Telemedicine

Telemedicine still has the potential to be a game-changer for health care if utilization increases. When people use telemedicine, they save themselves money, time, and hassle. And employers save on medical costs as well as medical absenteeism and presenteeism.

But to realize this vision, we need to stop viewing telemedicine as a commodity. Don’t simply check the box on telemedicine – get educated on the industry and pick a solution that actually works.


Larry Jones is CEO of TelaCare a national telemedicine company. Since starting the company in 2009, he has led TelaCare to its position today as one of the fastest growing telehealth companies, achieving significant growth in revenue, membership and telehealth utilization. He has become one of the foremost leading technology experts and healthcare technology strategists. Mr. Jones recently released his new book; The Truth About Telehealth available on Amazon.


  1. This article is spot on. Education on how it works is critical to utilizing it to the max. Most brokers will not spend the time to educate after the sale and that’s a big problem. Not to mention most employers don’t even understand the cost or how it works. If employers knew the savings to claims and renewal cost I am sure they would be on board.

  2. I agree with the article – in that, communication & training are “key” for end-users to have proper expectations!

    Proper expectations and good experiences will only lead to more widespread acceptance and usage of Telemedicine, on the whole.

  3. If more companies would embrace the TelaCare model, I feel that employers might realize savings across the board. When introducing new technologies, there is always a reluctance to institute it into the common culture. Telemedicine is the wave of the future here today, and the sooner employers accept it, the sooner they will realize it;s benefits.

  4. #1, seriously! Only a tiny fraction of the population knows about this option – and especially in cold temps during flu season, who wants to be driving out to see a doctor (with a child it’s even worse!)

  5. It is difficult to diagnose accurately on a screen. You have ear pain, is the doctor certain you have a swimmers ear versus a middle ear infection or a head and neck tumor radiating pain to your ear or shingles etc etc. People get incorrect diagnoses all the time and then they are told see your doctor or go to the ER.

    Cheapest service, more expensive service, doesn’t matter it’s 60 percent medicine. People aren’t happy, and I have seen them, when they get a steroid cream for cellulitis that needed to be treated with an antibiotic. If my kid is sick he is going to see an actual living breathing board certified physician.

    Nonmedical business people are always going to base everything on profit. How sad that it has come to this.

    More physicians need to be created so everyone has timely access to a real doctor and get a real exam.

    Transmitting an xray is one thing, but accurately diagnosing someone has been shown to be difficult. Therefore you have a lot of people wasting money getting a service that nonmedical people don’t realize is shaky or don’t care.
    As I have heard more than once by nonclinical folks,
    ” so what’s to know”

    They don’t know what they don’t know.

    Telehealth equipment that everyone has access to, to look in ears etc needs to be available otherwise this is going to result in a new srandard of care that will allow injury to occur, but will not be considered below the standard of care. Cha ching! Do we think for a minute non medical business people care? If they do, they
    have to educated by people who know, what’s to know.

  6. The way most organizations deliver telemedicine It’s value is in its access, not cost savings. I would argue a lot of telemedicine models today when they drive high utilization increase cost. Don’t be fooled into thinking utilization of most tekemedicine models equals cost savings. Follow the claims data… nobody is saving a lot of money treating coughs and colds. If solving telemedicine becoming a meaningful savings value was as simple as just marketing it well to employees… I promise you the stakeholders would be doing a better.

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