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The number of employers offering telemedicine options to employees is already high, and it’s growing quickly.

The research group Towers Watson tells VentureBeat that 38 percent of the employers it surveyed now offer some sort of telemedicine service to employees.

Many employers believe that by enabling remote doctor visits for simple health problems they can cut down on costs related to missed work and lowered productivity caused by illness.

Towers Watson said that just 22 percent of employers offered telemedicine benefits in 2014. The firm expects employer adoption of the new benefit will increase to 55 percent next year, and will hit 81 percent by 2018.

The survey queried 444 midsize to large U.S. organizations employing 7.2 million employees to arrive at its findings.

Towers Watson says employers also hope to use telemedicine benefits to help manage rising health care costs. Some employees may be able to use a virtual doctor visit as a way of avoiding an expensive emergency room visit, for example.

Health care costs have been growing more slowly over the last several years, but they are still growing at double the rate of inflation for employers, the firm says. Towers Watson says 84 percent of employers predict changes to their health care benefit programs for full-time employees in the next year.

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