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Telemedicine: Transforming employee wellbeing

21st Dec 2020
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In the final quarter of 2020, the healthcare industry bore witness to a surge in demand for telemedicine services as a second wave of global lockdowns were enforced. This significant development has cemented telemedicine’s importance as a permanent solution for delivering healthcare services to patients worldwide. 

It has also reignited a debate on whether businesses and HR leaders should offer telemedicine and telehealth services in employee benefit packages. Particularly if remote working continues long into 2021 and beyond, offering your employees the opportunity to connect with healthcare providers, all from the comfort of their own home, will serve to help keep your workforce safe, productive and healthy, bolstering your overall wellbeing strategy.

What is telemedicine?

If you’ve yet to come across the term ‘telemedicine’, it’s defined as follows: ‘Telemedicine is the use of technology to virtually administer medical advice, prognosis, and support from a qualified practitioner to a telehealth patient.’ Telemedicine enables qualified healthcare professionals to safely and remotely provide their services to telehealth patients, eliminating in-person interactions and the chance of viral transmission.

Services offered via telemedicine include mental health support, chronic disease management, psychiatry, family planning, medication renewal, on-call visits, and much more. Often, telemedicine hours go beyond standard office hours for physicians, which is of particular benefit to those who live or work far away from the nearest healthcare centre.

Through this pandemic, the need to socially distance and protect the vulnerable has made telemedicine an essential service. The rise of telemedicine this year was not just a quick-fix as a stop-gap for the world to re-adjust to the effects of the pandemic, but a solution that is very much here to stay. A Forrester report estimates that there will be 20 million telemedicine care visits in the UK alone by the end of 2020. These virtual care services will and have become an accepted alternative to the traditional methods of delivering healthcare. 

Telehealth: the future of securing employee wellness

With this expected growth and shift in healthcare delivery, there is an opportunity for HR leaders to differentiate their employee wellness strategies and how they structure the healthcare strand of any benefits package.

Integrating telehealth into employee wellness discussions is nothing new, but it is long overdue. Even before the pandemic, it was often the case that employees were hesitant to make appointments with their doctor for nonemergency care, principally due to how much time it takes. Just think about it: there’s the driving time, time spent in the waiting room, and time in the exam room. It can end up taking half a day just to go to a single appointment. Employees simply may not have the time to do this during their normal working hours, making them hesitant to get regular health check-ups, which puts their physical and mental health, as well as workplace productivity, in jeopardy.

By making telemedicine a benefit that employees can utilise anywhere, anytime, not just a one-off allowance, employers can benefit from a healthier and more productive workforce, while employees benefit from a convenient form of medical care. It can also help companies provide their employees with access to specialists who may not work close to employees who may be in need, therefore allowing workers to stay on the job longer.

Just as it was the case for quickly adopting virtual work from home technology solutions in order to avoid any business interruptions, adopting digital healthcare solutions for your employees can help keep and even boost your productivity and growth, while keeping your workforce safe. It’s truly a win-win for both employers and employees.

A word on privacy  

Despite the benefits, we know that sometimes employers find it difficult to get employees to utilise it. This is due to a multitude of reasons, such as scepticism around the privacy of data. Some telemedicine services allow patients and doctors to share and store sensitive information such as test results and x-rays, so it’s imperative that the right technology is in place to ensure these records are protected. Further, some may be concerned that healthcare professionals practicing on a telemedicine platform are not properly vetted and verified.

However, as we have seen with the rise in technology throughout this pandemic, the technology is there to help alleviate these concerns. From the humble beginnings of a GP just using a video-conferencing tool to call patients, there are now various platforms that deliver, support and streamline these services. Yes, other future hurdles also include a lack of access to relevant technology, networks, and connectivity, not to mention quality monitoring. However, with the dramatic and fundamental digital shift this year alone, solutions to these issues are being resolved as I type this.  

For HR leaders, recognising this trend and starting to provide employees with access to telemedicine services will help them differentiate, stay productive and improve employee wellbeing.

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