September 14, 2017

Telemedicine Gives Agricultural Workers Easier Access to HealthCare

While telemedicine technologies have been around for decades (NASA started delivering health care remotely to astronauts in the early 1960s), the use of telemedicine or “telehealth” as a health care delivery option has hit the mainstream only in the past few years.

Telemedicine gives employees a more convenient way to connect with a doctor to treat common health conditions using their smart phones, tablets and computers. If you don’t currently offer a telemedicine program, you may want to consider this “new” form of health care delivery for your workers.


Telemedicine for Agricultural Workers

More than half of the U.S. agricultural workers interviewed in a national survey conducted by the California Institute for Rural Studies said accessing medical care can be a challenge. As with all industries, when a worker gets a common health condition like the flu or pink eye for example, it is often inconvenient to take time off to get treatment. Even when a low-cost health clinic is available, an agricultural worker can find it difficult to get to a clinic in time.

Telemedicine is uniquely positioned to meet the challenges facing farmworkers today—whether full time or seasonal—by providing a convenient, cost-effective way to access care. But would workers be open to receiving care over the phone or through their home computer if they have been hesitant to take time off to make a regular office visit?


Insight from a 2013 Journal of Medical Internet Study

Research helps to answer that question. The study asked a group of U.S. farmworkers of all ages about their willingness to use mobile technology to manage chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes or hypertension. The questionnaire revealed that 81 percent of participants believed mobile technology would be helpful in enhancing their adherence to medications and result in quicker, more responsive interactions with their doctors.

These results are promising. They indicate that telemedicine may be a good health care delivery option because it provides a method for timely communication between providers and patients when care is needed. While this study specifically looked at farmworkers using text communications with their doctor to manage chronic conditions, it provides a glimpse into the potential willingness of workers to use telemedicine for other common health conditions such as cold and flu, bacterial infections like strep throat, allergies and minor injuries. While these conditions could also be treated at a nearby clinic, an office visit requires time away from work or can be difficult because of scheduling challenges or language barriers.

Telemedicine can benefit agricultural workers by:

•   Providing access to care if a worker or covered family member lives remotely and is not near an urgent care facility or a health clinic. A patient can typically engage with a doctor remotely within two minutes.

•   Offering the option to talk to a provider in their primary language. Most telemedicine vendors offer health services in multiple languages.

•   Giving workers who travel access to care wherever, whenever. Accessing a board-certified doctor is only a phone call away and available night and day. Telemedicine doctors can also prescribe medications from a nearby pharmacy.


Making the Case for Telemedicine with Your Workers

While the benefits are clear, employers of all sizes that offer this service are only seeing on average a 2 to 3 percent utilization rate. When asked what prevents employees from using a telemedicine program, employers cited a lack of understanding or awareness about the technology, confidentiality concerns, worries about malfunctioning equipment, and skepticism about the quality of doctors who disperse medicine remotely. Building employee confidence in a telemedicine program may mean taking a few extra steps to encourage and demonstrate its use.

Employers that offer a telemedicine program and are looking to boost participation have a few options. For one, a welcome packet that addresses quality and confidentiality, and provides instructions can help alleviate initial concerns when a program like this is introduced. It can also be helpful to highlight the types of conditions best treated by telemedicine so workers understand its limitations. Tutorials or webinars on using the program will encourage employees to try the technology and familiarize them with the process. Promoting the availability of your telemedicine program through employee newsletters, breakroom posters, health fairs and open enrollment events can serve to remind them of the service year round.

Consider the many benefits to offering a telemedicine program to your employees. WGAT offers a Doctor on Demand telemedicine program to every participant and their covered dependents on the WGAT health plan. The WGAT telemedicine program features a low co-pay and access to a doctor within three minutes via a smart phone, tablet or computer. Doctor on Demand offers both medical and mental health care services. If you are interested in purchasing a WGAT health plan, contact Western Growers Insurance Services at (800) 333-4WGA.