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Gut check on virtual care for employees



For the last five years, virtual care has gone beyond being a new ‘buzz word’ in the workplace benefits industry, to virtually taking over the conversation — and not without good reason, as we continue to navigate through year three of a global pandemic. Virtual healthcare services can often be accessed faster than in-person care, are generally more sustainable when it comes to alleviating the pressures on the public healthcare system, and provide a cost-effective option for benefits plans in supporting employees’ health needs.

For those living in remote communities or without a family doctor, virtual healthcare can also be the difference between accessing timely care versus traveling long distances to another town or city for care; or worse, spending months on a waiting list.

By leveraging virtual care services, the health and wellness of employees across Canada can be improved exponentially. Let’s take a closer look at how employees feel about virtual care.

A new survey, conducted by the Conference Board of Canada and TELUS Health, shows the demand for virtual healthcare is strong among employees in Canada but not all employers are providing coverage for virtual health services and not all employees know how to use them:

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The good: Research found employees across Canada are interested in using virtual healthcare, especially the younger demographic. Of the survey respondents aged 18 to 34, 60 per cent expressed a preference for using virtual healthcare, and 40 per cent of all respondents said they use virtual services to support their physical or mental health.

The not-so-good: Despite growing interest in virtual health services, only 45 per cent of employees reported having employer-provided coverage. For all the benefits of being able to access health services virtually, many people living in Canada are left out or left paying for primary care out of pocket.

Interestingly, 48 per cent of respondents aged 34 to 65 and 72 per cent aged 65 and older indicated that they prefer in-person visits to virtual care.  While virtual care is often viewed as “easy-to-use,” this survey data suggests that not all employees, particularly those who are older, find their experience with these services positive. While this may be because there are limitations in technology savvy, it may also be a result of employers not providing effective communications or channels for workers to learn and ask questions about the availability and access to these services.

This is not only a worrying trend, but also something that could cost a company its top talent. Given the clear interest in virtual care services among employees as shown in the survey, this coverage is something many people living in Canada want and possibly expect as part of their benefits plan. In fact, the research indicated that between 33 per cent and 59 per cent of respondents may be seeking new job opportunities in pursuit of improved health benefit plans. Similar research corroborates that point: a 2020 LifeWorks study found many employees (60 to 77 per cent) said they would leave their current organization for one that would offer better support for their wellbeing.

Considerations for employers in 2022: Organizations that want to support healthy, happy, and productive employees need to consider expanding their benefits packages to include personalized virtual healthcare services, and ensuring all employees understand the access they have and how to use it. Having the latest and greatest virtual care services available, without effectively communicating about them to employees is counterintuitive and does not demonstrate an employer’s commitment to supporting health and wellness.

Further, as the survey showed, not all employees are quick to grasp the technology. Employers need to provide comprehensive education on how to use virtual services and what options are available when offering different types of primary healthcare – either virtually or in-person. Organizations can consider hosting monthly drop-in sessions, having a member of its HR team designated as the go-to “virtual care expert,” or leverage other informative methods to provide ongoing education and on-demand support for those accessing, or interested in accessing, these healthcare services.

Importantly, offering virtual care services does not mean organizations should abandon coverage for in-person specialty medical services. The study highlighted that nearly three-quarters of respondents still valued in-person health services.

There are many hybrid options offering employees choice in how they access their healthcare. For example, TELUS Health Care Centres provide a connected network of health and wellness services accessible through virtual centres and in-person centres for ultimate convenience and timeliness. These centres offer preventive primary care and executive healthcare services, including mental health, occupational health and bespoke wellness services for employees. Adding this option to a benefits plan can give employees the ability to reach a world-class multidisciplinary health team, and support workplaces in fostering a physically and mentally healthy culture.

The versatility of virtual care offerings means that they are applicable to a number of different health concerns and personal preferences. For instance, those less comfortable with technology or more reticent to try new ways of doing things don’t have to start by using the video consultation services that the average user typically associates with virtual care. Instead, they can choose to ease into virtual care through services that require less technical know-how like asynchronous messaging with a healthcare provider. Users truly have the opportunity to come as they are and use virtual care in the way that makes sense to them.

Virtual care is here to stay, and while the sky’s the limit for how effective these services can be in supporting the unique and diverse health needs of people living in Canada, there are growing pains and barriers to employees benefiting. To truly see a future where employers play a pivotal role in health outcomes for their employees, they must address these barriers and this starts with their benefits plan design.

To learn more about TELUS Health’s Care Centres and its preventative health approach to a broader range of services for employees including on-demand virtual care visit: https://www.telus.com/en/health/care-centres/corporate-care.

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