We all know that employees do their best work when they’re happy and secure in their role. That’s why there’s been an increase in concern about employee well-being – something that includes their health. As technology develops, so too has the healthcare sector, and one important development has been the evolution of telemedicine.
What is telemedicine?
Telemedicine is a subset of telehealth, though you may see the terms used interchangeably.
Telehealth incorporates a lot of different services and systems within the healthcare system. It can include things like remote patient monitoring, mobile tracking apps, or online health education. It includes both clinical and non-clinical services that are done remotely with the aid of technology.
Telemedicine specifically refers to clinical services between provider and patient, carried out remotely through the use of telecommunications. This includes things like virtual doctors appointments, medication management, and specialist consultations.
All telemedicine is a type of telehealth, but not everything that’s telehealth is telemedicine.
How can telemedicine improve employee well-being?
Telemedicine has been around for some time, but adoption has been slow. This is – in part – due to the fact many health insurance plans don’t cover it, meaning it has to be paid for out of pocket. There have always been certain exemptions to this – if you live in a rural area, or have health conditions that make visiting a doctor difficult, for instance.
These restrictions have changed due to Covid-19, and there’s a high chance that it will stay this way. This means telemedicine is likely to be much more acceptable, and might be something offered on many insurance plans. By choosing employee insurance plans that allow for telemedicine, both you and your employees can reap the benefits.
One of the most irritating things about healthcare appointments is the time they take. Even if the actual appointment is only fifteen minutes, you have to account for travel, wait time, travel back, and potential problems on the way. This leads to employees taking half or full days off for a routine appointment, or simply not making the appointment at all.
This is complicated even further if your employee has children or is a carer – taking another person to a doctor can add even more time. For someone with multiple children, it can mean taking the others with them (and risking further illness) or arranging childcare.
Telemedicine removes all the extra activities like travel, meaning you only need to reserve time for the appointment itself. By using a video platform doctors can provide a thorough check of many illnesses, especially those with visual presentations, such as skin conditions or everyday illnesses like ear infections or norovirus.
This allows employees to take less time off – something that has obvious benefits for the company, but also benefits them. Many workers are wary of taking time off for illness due to worries about catching up on their return or not being able to find cover. Instead of taking a full day off to go for a consultation, they can come in half an hour late, take an extended lunch break, or otherwise fit it into their day. Not to mention the fact that many telemedicine platforms offer out-of-hours appointments, too.
Willingness to make appointments
As mentioned above, sometimes employees will end up avoiding making appointments at all. While this might benefit their well-being in the short term – they won’t be stressed out about falling behind on deadlines – it’s awful in the long term. Many illnesses are easy to treat when caught early, but they become gradually more difficult as time goes on. Putting off an appointment to avoid missing a day can lead to missing weeks later down the line.
Making a video call online avoids the issue of having to take time off, and leads to more willingness to make an appointment. This is hugely beneficial for employee well-being, as it can take a weight off their mind. Instead of worrying about a new patch of irritated skin for weeks, hoping it won’t develop into something worse, they can be given a diagnosis of eczema and get a prescription to pick up the day after.
It also means that if it is something more serious, they can get treatment as soon as possible. From a health insurance perspective, this is where it’s worth covering telemedicine appointments. That’s because covering those appointments leads to less expenses down the line. Being able to get an early diagnosis is helpful for everyone involved, and most importantly, it’s beneficial for the patient.
Easier access to specialists
Both of the above benefits also combine when employees need to see particular specialists. Often, seeing a specialist – especially for more obscure or difficult health issues – can be more than a day off. Sometimes specialists are in different cities or even different states.
Telemedicine enables people to speak to those specialists without having to travel to do so. Any blood tests, x-rays, or other examinations can be done at a local hospital and then forwarded to the clinical team elsewhere, meaning what might have been a week off filled with stress can be reduced to a day or two.
A healthier workforce
As much as you might like to avoid it, employees coming to work sick is a problem. This problem is only increased by policies that require sick notes to cover time off. Especially for short-lived but contagious illnesses, like norovirus. Norovirus tends to last between one and three days, is highly contagious, and has quite severe symptoms.
If a workplace requires a sick note, employees with norovirus may struggle to get an appointment within the one to three day period. With the cost of appointments, they may not be able to afford the expense for something that is such a short illness. This can lead to employees either ruining their well-being with stress or opting to come into work – putting everyone else at risk. Having a whole workforce come down with an illness is not a great customer service strategy, especially for food businesses.
Being able to book an appointment through phone or video call means an employee can get a sick note and take the needed time off – as well as check it isn’t something worse! This leads to a healthier workforce overall, as they won’t spread it.
Support for on-premise and remote employees
Some company healthcare plans might have restrictions on providers or services that are limited to certain locations. This means that their benefit plans are great for on-premises employees, but not so great for remote workers.
If you’ve invested in things like omnichannel recruitment, cloud hosted storage, and project management platforms in order to attract remote workers, but not telemedicine, then you’re missing out. Covering healthcare solutions that those working from home can actually use is a great way to show you value the well-being of all your employees, not just those who work on site.
Mental health is just as important
Part of the push towards improving employee well-being has included acknowledgement that mental health can be a problem. From workplace mindfulness training to stress reduction courses, there’s all kinds of options being floated.
One of the things that can make the biggest difference is access to mental health care. Workplace mental health care doesn’t always appeal – there are concerns about confidentiality or other colleagues’ judgement. However, telemedicine mental health care (sometimes referred to as telepsychiatry, though not all of it falls into this category) can avoid these worries, especially when it’s an external provider not a company one.
Incorporating coverage for remote therapy into your healthcare plans is a great way to encourage employee wellness. Even more so if it’s included as standard, since it removes the pressure to request it.
Long term condition management
Of course, not every health problem that arises is new. For many people, managing health issues is a lifelong endeavor. Having to schedule appointments to manage prescriptions, monitor symptoms, and generally stay on top of a chronic condition can put a lot of extra pressure on workers. That’s especially true for those who might not want to discuss their illness in depth.
Rather than dealing with the additional stress caused by taking time off work, or having to discuss health issues in depth with management, telemedicine enables people to manage their own health in a way that suits them. The broader field of telehealth plays a part here, too, with wearable technology and tracking apps also a potential part of their healthcare.
Is workforce monitoring the future?
All of those are ways telemedicine is currently transforming employee well-being, but there’s potential for more to come! CXA has an AI engine that can connect people to the relevant providers – but they also provide anonymized data to employers. Combined with real-time predictive modeling, this means companies can provide targeted initiatives.
Imagine if your business is expanding – you track things like cloud metrics for scaling up or additional office expenses. Why not track the impact on your employees’ health too? Currently, many of the telemedicine solutions we have are individualized, but these more community-based solutions may be the next step.
Make sure your team is covered
With all of these benefits, the rise of working from home, and the ongoing pandemic, there’s never been a better time to ensure your employees have access to telemedicine solutions. Any scheme aimed at improving employee well-being should include these, as well as staying up to date on developments in the field. Virtual appointments are just the start, and you should expect to see further developments in the next couple of years.
Sam O’Brien is the Senior Website Optimisation & User Experience Manager for EMEA at RingCentral, a Global VoIP Service, video conferencing and call centre software provider. Sam has a passion for innovation and loves exploring ways to collaborate more with dispersed teams. He has written for websites such as SAP and Revenue River. Here is his LinkedIn.