In today’s competitive talent pool, understanding employees’ motivations and expectations is critical to workplace productivity optimization and business success. Research shows that employees are looking for customizable, prevention-focused benefits programs that save time, achieve work-life balance and provide quick access to healthcare for their families.
Canada has seen a significant shift in the role that health and wellness plays in the employee experience over the past decade; the Society for Human Resource Management reports that 80% of Canadian mid to large size employers now offer some level of employee wellness services or information. Other reports suggest that over 90% of Canadian employers with more than 200 employees offer some level of employee wellness programming — yet only 30% of companies measure how these programs impact their employees’ health and wellness.
With mounting pressures on decision makers to prove the business impact of their investments, employee health programs that deliver measurable results and meet the changing expectations and priorities of employees will rise to the top.
WHY VIRTUAL CARE IS CHANGING THE GAME
With average smart phone screen time increasing by 60% over the past three years1 it’s no surprise that more and more Canadians are demanding healthcare at their fingertips and supplementing traditional doctor’s office visits with virtual, app-based consults. Virtual healthcare apps like Medisys On-Demand let individuals connect directly and instantly with nurse practitioners, physicians, and other allied health professionals through secure text and video chat — anytime and anywhere. Another indication of consumer appetite for virtual healthcare is that over 72% of smart phone users currently monitor their health through their phones2.
But it’s not just employees who stand to benefit from virtual healthcare. Responsible companies also provide health benefits to protect the bottom line: with people taking 2-6 days3 off per year for physician-related visits, and each five-minute visit taking approximately two hours of time from the workplace, the financial benefits of virtual healthcare equate to thousands of dollars in savings per employee annually, thanks solely to reduced absenteeism.
With this innovation in healthcare delivery also comes a shift in employee attitudes and expectations about employer-funded health benefits. New research suggests that employees are not only willing to adopt virtual healthcare but are willing to trade off some of the health services within their current benefits plans in exchange for better access to virtual healthcare.
2 IN 3 CANADIANS WOULD TAKE ADVANTAGE OF VIRTUAL CARE
A 2018 survey commissioned by Medisys Health Group, conducted by Edelman (n = 1501), found that only 9% of Canadian employers today offer virtual care as part of their health benefits packages, yet two out of three Canadian employees would use virtual care if it was provided in their employee benefit plan, and nearly three out of four (71%) are willing to trade some of their current health benefits for technology-supported services like virtual care.
A third (31%) of employees surveyed indicated that they would pay more (co-pay) for access to virtual care services if offered as part of their health benefits program, and two in five Canadian employees surveyed (39%) indicated that they would pay more for access to additional health services including mental health, wellness programs and virtual care combined. Millennials were the most willing (49%) to pay more for additional health services. Not surprisingly, Millennials were among the highest prospective users of virtual care services, with 67% surveyed saying they would use employer-sponsored virtual care today.
The AON Consumer Mindset Survey 2017 also reported that 33% of consumers want their employers to provide access to healthcare providers’ online methods (chat, video conference, etc.4)
A REMEDY FOR HEALTHCARE SUPPLY AND DEMAND CHALLENGES
Canada is likely to follow USA’s virtual healthcare trend — which doubled in usage between 2016 and 2017 — as healthcare organizations and governments face a growing imbalance of supply and demand5.
According to Statistics Canada, about 4.5 million Canadian residents do not have a family doctor6, and those who do have one cannot always get an appointment when needed. A 2016 Canadian Institute for Health Information survey revealed that 20% of Canadians reported waiting seven days or longer for an appointment to see their family doctor7, while 61% of family doctors surveyed reported not being able to accommodate same-day or next-day appointments for urgent needs. As a result, simple health matters such as prescription renewals often result in visits to crowded walk-in clinics, long waits in emergency rooms (nearly 40,000 Canadians visit an ER every year just to renew prescriptions, and typically wait over four hours to see a physician) or even the decision to forgo medical care altogether. It is estimated that up to 70% of visits to ERs or clinics can be replaced by online consultations without any impact on the quality of care8.
In a recent survey conducted by IPSOS, Canada’s leading provider of public opinion research, 68% of Canadians surveyed reported having skipped a scheduled doctor’s appointment or avoided seeing a doctor when they were sick because of long wait times, the inability to book appointments outside of normal work hours and other barriers9. That same percentage (69%) of Canadians surveyed said they would use virtual healthcare for their appointments.
It is clear that common access barriers lead many Canadians to delay or avoid seeking medical care, which can be especially dangerous for patients suffering from serious or chronic conditions and for those living in remote communities where access to specialists can be limited to begin with. Virtual care, however, has been shown to reduce wait times to see a specialist by 30% to 50%.
THE EMPLOYER PERSPECTIVE
The Medisys virtual health survey determined that the majority of Canadian employees would use virtual care if they had access to it. This appetite to engage in healthcare on one’s own terms translates to greater employee attention to personal health — and we know that improved health literacy has been shown to reduce the direct cost of healthcare by as much as 17%10.
Desjardins Group, Canada’s largest financial cooperative, recently launched a virtual care pilot project to about 4,000 of its 46,000 employees.
“We are currently piloting virtual health and we’re getting some very positive comments from our employees,” says Josée Dixon, Senior Vice-President of Group and Business Insurance at Desjardins Insurance. “They’re especially pleased at how easy it is to get in touch with a medical professional, even late at night, to take care of a medical issue – whether it’s for themselves, their spouse or their children. Employees have been able to renew their prescriptions without having to waste hours in a walk-in clinic. It’s been very positive so far.”
Canadian companies are increasingly considering the economic benefits of adding virtual care solutions like Medisys On-Demand to their health benefits packages, and 71% of Canadian employees surveyed indicated that they are willing to trade existing benefits for improved access to healthcare professionals via technology-supported services like virtual care. It’s a win-win scenario for both workers and their companies, and proof of this: the old adage that health isn’t valued until it’s lost may not hold true with the advent of virtual healthcare.
THE MENTAL HEALTH ADVANTAGE
Access to healthcare professionals through virtual care provides more peace of mind for employees and reduces potential stress related to their health; with stress contributing to an estimated 60% of work-related absenteeism, this is a relevant concern3. And as workplace stigmas around stress and mental health finally start to dissipate, organizations are recognizing the true impact of mental and emotional health on their workforce.
Still, The Consumer Health Mindset® Study 2017 reported that out-of-pocket costs along with stigma, lack of time and flexibility make it difficult for consumers to prioritize mental and emotional health5. Even with employee assistance programs or mental health professionals available to employees through benefits plans, many face challenges with scheduling and insecurities around the perceived stigma of seeking mental health support.
Mental health challenges can be isolating, often without the peer support others may receive when battling cancer. Sufferers often face their conditions alone and, in some cases, avoid treatment altogether due to fear of others knowing about their condition. Virtual mental healthcare can alleviate that fear with convenient and private access to mental health professionals, which may encourage more employees to seek help.
Employers offering this type of virtual care, such as Medisys On-Demand’s forthcoming virtual mental health services powered by Beacon, have the power to help bring mental health out of the shadows.
1 Neilson Total Audience (2016), The Total Audience Report: Q1 2016, retrieved from https://www.nielsen.com
2 Ramani, M., Rupesh B., Abrar K., Blythe H. (2018), Deloitte Insights 2018, retrieved from www.deloitte.com
3 Murphy, R. (2018), Majority of Canadians have taken time off work for medical appointments: survey. Retrieved from [web log post] https://www.benefitscanada.com/
4 AON Hewitt (2014), The Consumer Health Mindset retrieved from www.aon.com
5 PwC Healthcare, Making Care Mobile, retrieved from www.pwc.com/ca/en/industries/healthcare.html
6 Statistics Canada (2014), Access to a regular medical doctor retrieved from www150.statcan.gc.ca
7 Canadian Institute for Health Information survey (2016), How Canada Compares: Results From The Commonwealth Fund’s 2016 International Health Policy Survey of Adults in 11 Countries — Accessible Report, retrieved from www.cihi.ca
8 Truven Health Analytics (2013), Avoidable Emergency Department Usage Analysis retrieved from www.truvenhealth.com
9 IPSOS (2017), Seven in Ten Canadians (68%) Have Skipped Seeing a Doctor Due to Long Wait Times, Timeliness or Other Barriers Half of Ontarians (49%) Interested in Online Appointments with Ontario-Based Doctors
10 Haun JN, Patel NR, French DD, Campbell RR, Bradham DD, Lapcevic WA. (2015) Association between health literacy and medical care costs in an integrated healthcare system: a regional population based study. BMC Health Services Res. 15: 249.
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