A major task ahead for Anthem is educating its members that the telemedicine benefit is available.
"This is such a new way to get care that until you've actually seen it or been exposed to it directly, you don't know that you actually have the ability, that you have a doctor in your pocket."
"Do they all know they have this benefit?" Jesser says. "No. This is such a new way to get care that until you've actually seen it or been exposed to it directly, you don't know that you actually have the ability, that you have a doctor in your pocket."
Anthem is aggressively marketing the telemedicine benefit, "but it's not one of those things like a dental plan or a health insurance copay that you just put on the ID card and everybody understands it. You really need to address people directly through email, sometimes through direct phone calls, and video. We've been working very hard at that. One of the other challenges is just simply obtaining people's email address to let them know they have such a thing," he says.
In addition, Anthem telemedicine services are available to nonmembers as well through the use of a credit card, although they must arrange individual reimbursement for these services, perhaps claiming them as out-of-network services with their own health insurer, Jesser says.
For now, telemedicine represents a small part of Anthem's overall business. "You need millions of visits to even move the needle," Jesser says. "It really wasn't done as an economic growth engine. It was done as a differentiation feature. It's steadily growing, doubling and tripling year over year."
Scott Mace is the former senior technology editor for HealthLeaders Media. He is now the senior editor, custom content at H3.Group.