In a world of remote work, it’s only natural that there would be increased interest in virtual health care. But, the value of a virtual care option goes beyond a fad and should be considered if you’re actively evaluating how to improve your health care benefit offerings for employees.
What is virtual health care?
Virtual care allows employees to access the health care system and other health-promoting resources remotely via computers, tablets and smartphones.
What are the benefits of virtual health care?
1. There’s a heightened focus on employee wellbeing following the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual care improves access to the health care system and other health resources by enhancing convenience, efficiency and cost effectiveness. Employees can quickly receive attention for medical issues or get their health questions answered with a few clicks on an electronic device – without ever leaving their home.
2. In this way, virtual care removes traditional barriers to seeking health care—including limited availability of professionals, appointment delays, commuting times and wait times in clinic – and empowers employees to stay on top of their health.
3. If employees (or their family members) can see medical professionals practically on demand, resolve illnesses faster and remain healthier overall, it causes fewer disruptions to work schedules and can reduce absenteeism. It can also prevent distractions while employees are on the job. All of this can boost productivity.
4. It conserves resources at health care facilities, such as urgent care centers and emergency rooms, for those patients who really need to visit them in person.
5. If employees can better manage their health and avoid using urgent care centers and ERs unless necessary, it can help businesses better control benefits costs. This is especially important as a potential economic downturn looms and businesses evaluate their finances.
Businesses often struggle to contain benefits costs. Health care benefits are the costliest line item for employers – and these costs consistently rise each year, with plan usage and claims history serving as the two big drivers.
6. Having virtual care options can also be help reduce employees’ stress about their own health-insurance costs.
7. As The Great Resignation persists and businesses compete to attract and retain top talent, any effort undertaken by companies to demonstrate they are trying to make employees’ lives easier matters. Quite simply, virtual care options help to establish your company as a modern workplace that values and cares for its people.
What are the types of virtual care?
Here are six virtual care options you should know about. It’s possible that these benefits are already available through your company’s health insurance plan or employee assistance program (EAP) – if so, you should promote these benefits and their pros to your employees.
1. Telemedicine appointments
Often, the option for telemedicine appointments is a standard offering within a company’s health insurance plan, available at no additional charge. Meant for patients with non-emergency medical conditions – such as strep throat, flu or a urinary tract infection, for example – these patients can see primary care physicians and specialists alike.
How it works:
- Patient logs into a virtual care app
- Patient selects from a list of available physicians
- The appointment takes place over videoconference
- The physician can send any needed prescription medications directly to their pharmacy of choice
Telemedicine appointments can be especially helpful to:
- Use as a “try first” tactic to avoid unnecessary overcrowding in doctors’ offices and emergency facilities.
- Make life easier for working parents and employees who live in more rural areas. For these employees, it’s not always easy – or desirable – to take a long drive or spend the time at traditional doctor appointments.
- Support parents of young children who tend to catch bugs more frequently. Pediatricians may not have same-day availability. Plus, more time with kids home means parents aren’t working, either.
One drawback is that patients may not be able to choose the same physician every time they seek a telemedicine appointment – who they see depends on which providers are available at that moment. However, for patients seeking quick care and convenience in treating a minor medical issue, this is usually an acceptable trade-off.
2. Virtual therapy
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, workplace leaders have a greater awareness of employees’ mental health and why it’s critical that employees maintain good coping strategies for dealing with life’s challenges. Certainly, it’s helpful to make it easier for employees to seek professional help when needed.
Similarly to a telemedicine appointment with a doctor, virtual mental health care lets employees access therapists over videoconference or even text.
The benefits of this virtual care option are:
- Faster appointments
- A larger pool of professionals to choose from, as employees aren’t limited by their immediate geographic area
Often, EAPs will provide employees with a list of pre-screened therapists for referral so they don’t have to perform research on providers.
For employees, this can also be an incredibly cost-effective way to obtain mental health care. With many EAPs, regardless of whether the therapist visit is in person or virtual, employees get a set number of visits per year at no additional cost.
3. Nurse hotlines
Maybe your employee has a burning medical question, but doesn’t necessarily need a full-blown doctor appointment. With nurse hotlines, employees can call any time, as many times as they want, and obtain answers from reputable medical sources – quickly and without paying extra.
A nurse hotline can even help employees ascertain whether they need to schedule a doctor appointment or emergency care, if they’re uncertain.
4. Wellness apps
As part of your company’s wellness program, you can offer virtual resources for managing a healthy lifestyle proactively in a DIY, self-directed way. There are many wellness app options available, focused on activities such as:
- Meditating and performing other relaxation techniques
- Setting and tracking fitness goals
- Obtaining nutrition information
- Meal planning
- Speaking with a coach
5. Health insurance carrier apps
Many health insurance carriers offer their own app for employees to manage their health information in one centralized location. These apps enable employees to:
- Stay abreast of active claims and claims history
- Track their health care spending, including FSA balances and their progress toward meeting deductibles
- Find in-network providers and facilities (especially helpful if an employee is outside their typical location)
- Have an electronic version of their ID card available at any time
- Access network information
- Chat with a representative
- View medications and health records
- Obtain proof of immunizations when needed
This keeps employees organized and makes things easy for them.
6. Virtual fitness classes
Physical health is crucial in maintaining overall health. Your company’s EAP, medical coverage or wellness program can offer free or discounted access to fitness classes or clubs online. This makes exercise more convenient and can alleviate stress associated with costs of a traditional gym or studio membership.
Summing it all up
Virtual care enables employees to easily access health care resources and exert more control over their health. It’s convenient, saves employees time and money and facilitates faster resolution to medical issues and questions. These six virtual care options outlined can help bring your workplace into the 21st century and make your employees happier and less distracted – and may even help your business contain benefits costs.
To learn more about sought-after benefits that appeal to employees and serve your business well, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to employee benefits.