Virtual care and employee wellness in the age of COVID-19 and beyond

Virtual care · Apr 9, 2020

COVID-19 has forced people to change many of their behaviours in a dramatic way. With physical distancing protocols in place, working from home has become the new temporary normal as team collaboration, meetings and conferences take on virtual form. In moments of uncertainty and concern, Canadian employers have been called upon to navigate business decisions with thoughtful, people-first responses. A recent Deloitte study found that providing remote and flexible work options were top-of-mind for 90% of surveyed employers, followed by the need to help employees address psychological stress and epidemic protection. 

Virtual care is a conscious investment that employers can make today to support employee wellness during this challenging time and beyond as business recovery gradually starts to take place. With features to help employees obtain both primary care and mental health support 24/7 from the comfort of their home, virtual care is a versatile solution to sustain a happy, healthy and high performing workforce. Here are three ways virtual care can be the logical next step to strengthening your employee benefits provisions:

1. Making mental health a priority

Mental illness or addiction is experienced by one-in-five Canadians. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, by the time Canadians reach 40 years of age 50% have or have had a mental illness. As such, the economic burden of mental illness is estimated at $51 billion per year, which includes healthcare costs, lost productivity and reductions in health-related quality of life. 

Stress runs high in the time of COVID-19. In fact, a recent survey by Morneau Shepell reports that a vast majority of Canadians are finding that the pandemic is having a negative impact on their mental health. According to survey results, mental health has dropped 12 points to 63, a score typically only seen when people are going through significant life disruptions.

Because stress and anxiety is experienced differently by individuals, it can be hard for employees to keep themselves in check. Mental health support via virtual care can help address the onset of stress and anxiety when it happens. Qualified mental health professionals remain on standby to help employees receive help when they need it. After all, experiencing stress over the long-term can take real physical and mental toll on overall health. High blood pressure, obesity and depression are some of the health consequences of chronic stress and main drivers for lost workdays, increased medical claim costs and indemnity claims costs. 

2. Facilitating access to on-demand medical attention when life happens

Access to primary care and prescription refills remains an important part of a patient’s everyday life and their health journey. In addition to the aforementioned services, virtual care also provides on-demand support to help manage chronic diseases and facilitate referrals to specialist physicians. 

In a time where physical distancing is necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19, employees who need to seek medical attention can use their virtual care app to do so versus heading into a clinic or the hospital. During a virtual care visit, the healthcare provider can discuss the patient’s health status, monitor progress according to the patient’s care plan and answer any questions regarding their condition. If the healthcare provider feels that an in-person visit is necessary, they will be able to discuss the patient’s options and next steps accordingly.

This ease of access should offer peace of mind to employees. Akira by TELUS Health is offered in English and French and is accessible via smartphone or desktop, from anywhere. 

3. Focusing on preventive care during and beyond COVID-19

Virtual care isn’t a one-off solution to guiding employee wellness in the age of COVID-19. Data analytics within virtual care solutions can help paint a clearer picture of the aggregate health state of employees. Combining this with data of other benefits products can also inform substantial cost drivers as well as gaps between services offered and the desired health outcomes, revealing the true return on investment of benefits provisions over time. 

Virtual care benefits both employers and employees whether it is in the midst of COVID-19 or in the aftermath. The pandemic has brought to light the dire need to modernize wellness programs by considering virtual care. A recent survey by RBC Insurance found that 72% of working Canadians would perceive their employer in a more positive light if virtual care or telemedicine was part of the benefits package. 

When it comes to ensuring that employees have what they need to be happy, healthy and high performing on the job–regardless of where they actually conduct work–early intervention through targeted preventative health programs delivered through solutions like virtual care is essential to employee wellness. Through such targeted approaches, we can engage employees to commit to behavioural change that will help improve their health and contribute to minimizing long-term costs for employers. 

Akira by TELUS Health is a national, on-demand virtual care solution offered to Canadian companies as an employee benefit. Akira gives members and their family direct access to secure medical consults with friendly, knowledgeable clinicians – 24/7 and across the country. Akira is available in French and English via smartphone or computer, for new and refill prescriptions, specialist referrals, medical advice, mental health support, and more. Learn more about Akira by TELUS Health.

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