At Cigna, telehealth reduces patient costs and ER visits, and boosts use of generic Rx

In addition, Cigna’s telemedicine customers have given high patient satisfaction scores: a Net Promoter Score of 81.1 among those who use the service.
By Bill Siwicki
11:37 AM
At Cigna, telehealth reduces patient costs and ER visits, and boosts use of generic Rx

A look at how patients make telemedicine appointments through Cigna's telehealth program.

As healthcare costs continue to rise, the employer clients of Cigna, a healthcare organization based in Bloomfield, Connecticut, continue to seek new care delivery options that will improve access and convenience while lowering costs.


One of the greatest cost drivers in Cigna’s healthcare system is emergency department visits. Many emergency room visits can be handled in less costly, more convenient ways, and providing the choice for virtual urgent care services is really important for Cigna customers, said Julie McCarter, vice president of core solutions at Cigna.

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"We believe there is an opportunity to bring more convenience in the delivery of care for customers in a way that helps to lower costs."

Julie McCarter, Cigna

“Traditional care can be inconvenient for patients who get sick outside of normal business hours, or have trouble scheduling care into their busy lives,” she explained. “We believe there is an opportunity to bring more convenience in the delivery of care for customers in a way that helps to lower costs.”


Cigna wanted to make it easy for patients to access affordable, high-quality, virtual care services. Cigna’s efforts to bring virtual care to its clients and customers included:

  • Working with telemedicine technology vendor MDLive to provide on-demand 24/7/365 access to a national network of licensed, board-certified, U.S.-based healthcare providers, including pediatricians, for minor medical conditions (for example, allergies, earaches, urinary tract infections, pink eye, etc.). These providers can prescribe medication when appropriate and send the prescription to the customer’s pharmacy.
  • Creating a seamless experience with Cigna for customers. “Since many of our customers use myCigna to find in-network care, we added a link to MDLive on myCigna,” McCarter said. “Customers can access the MDLive portal through secure single-sign-on to meet with a doctor virtually. Additionally, customers are able to share notes from the virtual consultation with their regular provider enabling continuity of care.”
  • Partnering with clients to incorporate virtual care into their employer-sponsored benefit design; many offer lower copays for virtual care.
  • Extending this virtual care option to Cigna’s provider network. “We currently reimburse behavioral health in-network providers for virtual care today and will expand this to all in-network providers in 2020,” McCarter noted.


There are many vendors on the market today offering telemedicine technology, including American Well, Avizia, GlobalMed, InTouch Health, MDLive, Novotalk, SnapMD, Teladoc, TeleHealth Services and Tellus.


Cigna has a model of choice and options – making care available when, where and how customers want healthcare and empowering them to make informed decisions, McCarter said.

“Through our collaboration with MDLive, we offer virtual care for customers with employer-sponsored health coverage and those with ACA healthcare exchange plans,” she said. “The cost to the customer for virtual services is often the same, or less than, the cost for a traditional in-person visit. Virtual care can effectively serve both healthy and at-risk populations, as well as expand, over time, to reach people with certain chronic conditions.”


Customers using virtual services experience lower medical costs, McCarter reported. In a study comparing 20,000 Cigna customers who used MDLive with 20,000 customers who did not, Cigna found:

  • Total Medical Cost: Virtual care users demonstrated a 17% lower total medical cost when compared with non-virtual care users.
  • ED visits: Virtual care users experienced a 36% net reduction in emergency department use per 1,000, as compared to non-virtual care users.
  • Generic prescriptions: 45% higher use of generic medications for virtual care users compared to non-virtual care users.

“In addition, Cigna’s MDLive customers have high satisfaction scores,” McCarter said. “MDLive has a Net Promoter Score of 81.1 among Cigna customers who use the service.”


Getting people to adopt a new way of receiving healthcare can come with challenges and virtual care is no exception; one of the most effective ways to drive customers to virtual channels is awareness and education, McCarter advised.

“For awareness, we partner with our clients to inform employees of their virtual care benefits, encourage them to register before they need it, and remind them of this option when they are searching for care online,” she said. “For education, we help customers understand the benefits of virtual care, including its simplicity, convenience and the types of conditions that can be treated virtually.”

For example, Cigna virtual care customers can access board-certified healthcare providers 24/7 through private, online and live appointments via a secure video or phone conversation. McCarter said that this means they can choose how they want to connect, the time and the day that works best with their schedule.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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