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Virtual care in the workplace: trend or revolution?

Virtual care · Dec 14, 2020

As many of us are still working from home and have to limit our human interactions, it is easy to understand why employees are demanding virtual health programs now more than ever. But with a vaccine on the horizon, some employers are still asking: “Is virtual care a short-term solution or a full-blown revolution? Will virtual care be the new norm and it is worth offering it to my employees as part of their benefits plan?”

Rewinding to 2018 shows us that the virtual healthcare ball started rolling on an international scale long before the COVID-19 pandemic: the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a digital health resolution at its general assembly, the National Health Service (NHS) in England adopted a plan that promised the deployment of a “digital first” care strategy within five years, France launched Ma Santé 2022 to advocate a digital healthcare shift, and Australia’s digital health care strategy was deployed.

That same year, a large-scale international Ipsos survey revealed that while only 10% of respondents had already used telemedicine, more than 44% would be ready to try it if it was available. Moreover, in 2019 the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) found that 75% of Canadians were interested in virtual care — and not just millennials: 60% of those over the age of 55 were also interested.

While the interest for these solutions had been present for a while, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically accelerated Canada’s notoriously slow adoption of virtual care. In March 2020, governments, businesses and healthcare providers raced to figure out how to deliver care remotely as Canadians were urged to stay home — and the adoption curve has continued to rise since.

Additionally, specialty practitioners such as physical therapists, chiropractors and nutritionists have also gone virtual in 2020 to maintain continuity of care.

Leading up to 2020, while most Canadians believed that virtual care would yield an overall improvement in care, they also had significant concerns. They worried about the loss of human contact, risks to their privacy and the fact that virtual healthcare could open the door to private health care, according to the CMA.

Virtual care becoming the default option during the events surrounding COVID-19 has mitigated many fears and changed the minds of Canadians. Users of Akira by TELUS Health, for example, were delighted: 80% - 85% of the app’s virtual consultations have been successfully resolved without the need for an in-person visit. This includes consults for both physical and mental health concerns.

Virtual care’s adoption and usage were greatly catalyzed by the world pandemic but its numerous benefits lead many to think that this goes beyond a trend: virtual care is here to stay and will become a differentiating factor for employers.

What about flexible health benefits that enable better work-life balance and remote work? 90% of Canadian employers now think that it is urgent to provide flexible and remote work options, which suggests a sensitivity toward Canadians’ new way of life.

Offering virtual care can become a competitive advantage during the recruitment process and increase employee satisfaction:

  • 72% of Canadians have a more favorable perception of employers who provide access to virtual care

  • 71% of Canadians are ready to replace some of their current benefits with virtual care

  • 77% of Canadian employees would consider changing jobs if they were offered better mental health and well-being support

Virtual care has the power to help reduce absenteeism, increase employees’ perceived value of their benefits plans, provide peace of mind for employees and their families, and facilitate more effective physical distancing by way of limiting in-clinic medical visits.

Employers can no longer afford to have unhealthy employees, either. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 60% of absences in the workplace were stress-related, and mental health problems compelled more than 500,000 Canadians to take time off each week — statistics that will surely rise as the true mental health toll of 2020 is realized.

Ultimately, Canadians’ long-standing appetite for virtual healthcare, paired with a new standard of employee expectations and employers’ new understanding of the need for virtual work capabilities, point to a virtual care shift that is indeed more revolutionary than trendy.