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Employer Health Centers Expand Virtual Care

Employer Health Centers Expand Virtual Care

Dec. 30, 2020
A new survey shows 47% of employees have used virtual care services— almost three times more than last year.

With the onset of COVID-19, employees are turning to company- offered virtual health care services, and giving these services high marks, according to a new survey, 2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey, conducted by Willis Towers Watson.

This year 47% of survey respondents have used virtual care services— almost three times more than last year (17%).

About 80% said that virtual case was as good as face-to-face consultations, with 25% saying it was even better.

 “Virtual care turned out to be just what the doctor ordered during the pandemic,” said Julie Stone, managing director, Health and Benefits, Willis Towers Watson. “Employers were quick to expand and educate employees on how to access virtual care, and employees — especially those who were hesitant to access traditional medical care — took advantage of it.”

Virtual care was used for a variety of reasons including, regular screening and checkups. Additionally one in five have used virtual care for mental health care or treatment for a new illness.

This form of medical care has opened additional pathways for employees to access care, especially for low-income employees, who are more than 40% more likely to say they got the care they needed when using virtual care.

However, many people are deferring medical services. In fact, nearly half of the respondents have put off medical care due to both concerns over the virus as well as monetary concerns. Looking at this more closely the study offers these statistics:

  • 44% have deferred medical care during the pandemic with 30% either canceling or postponing a treatment or appointment; a quarter of employees (25%) said their medical provider has canceled or postponed a treatment or appointment.
  • More than six in 10 respondents (61%) cited worries over COVID-19 for deferring care; 42% cited money concerns.
  • Nearly three in 10 employees (29%) who have deferred care said their health suffered as a result of canceling an appointment or treatment, while 40% expect their health will suffer.

As for the current state of health, it’s a mixed bag. Nearly a quarter of employees (22%) said their physical health had improved, while 63% indicated no change.  As for mental health while 53% indicated there was no change, and 18% reported an improvement

And that was true of lifestyle habits as well with more reporting improvements than declines in their lifestyle habits (26% versus 23%) and work/life balance (27% versus 21%).

On the other side, 15% reported their physical health had declined due to the pandemic. Nearly one-third (29%) said their mental/emotional health had worsened.

 “One of the biggest challenges employers face is how to support employees’ mental health and emotional wellbeing needs,” said Regina Ihrke, senior director and wellbeing leader, Willis Towers Watson. “This is especially true for employees who work from home and feel disconnected. While it’s encouraging that many employees appear to be managing the pandemic well from a physical and lifestyle perspective, it is imperative for employers to closely gauge and take action to improve the wellbeing of their workforce. Those that do so will be best positioned to help employees thrive both now and when the pandemic passes.”

When asked about behavior after the pandemic, one in four employees (26%) said they will increase their health care use when the pandemic ends.  And over half (53%) with a chronic condition who deferred care expect to significantly increase their use of health care services when the pandemic ends.

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