3 Ways Virtual Care Gives Employers a Competitive Advantage.

It’s Sunday night and the baby has a fever. Do we wait it out until the walk-in clinic opens in the morning? Take our chances on being seen quickly in the emergency room? Hope it goes away on its own? In any case, it’ll be a tough morning at work with so little sleep, plus more time off to follow up with the doctor.

This scenario, or something like it, is playing out in homes and workplaces across Canada, and it’s taking a heavy toll on employees and employers as well. A recent Harvard Business School report noted that companies are hit with millions of dollars in costs due to lost productivity, absenteeism and presenteeism,1 when employees are unable to access healthcare quickly and easily.

This is where virtual care makes sense for Canadian employers. Virtual care uses mobile and web technology to connect patients and healthcare practitioners, on-demand, 24/7. A new report by Medisys Health Group finds that Canadians lag in adopting this model of care, despite proven ROI in the United States and the United Kingdom2.

Canadian employers are struggling with balancing healthy, productive workplaces with the rising costs of drugs and extended care3. At the same time, they are competing for scarce talent and working to ensure their organization has the skillsets to remain competitive for the long term.3

Many benefits advisors and insurers are encouraging employers to take a look at virtual care, not just to control costs but also to find that valuable competitive differentiator. With just nine percent of Canadian employers offering virtual care to their employees as a benefit2, there are some significant opportunities for these organizations to build a competitive advantage while addressing top areas of concern.

Attracting and keeping top talent is key.

The days of a talent surplus are well behind us, and business leaders are more concerned than ever with the need to find and keep the right people to drive growth4. The problem isn’t just in our largest organizations; small businesses in Canada ended last year with more than 400,000 open roles waiting to be filled5.

But employees are looking for more than a paycheque, and employers are responding with a variety of other inducements to attract and engage scarce workers. Virtual care is a compelling offer to prospective employees, and the Medisys Health Group report indicates it’s likely to be popular, with two-thirds of employees saying they would use virtual care if it is offered: much higher than the 10 percent who typically take advantage of traditional employee assistance programs (EAPs).  About 70 percent of employees are also willing to give up some other benefits to gain virtual care support. Millennials are particularly interested in virtual care, with 67 percent wanting access to these services.2

Millennials are also looking at how prospective employers use technology. Today’s workforce is very comfortable with mobile apps and virtual conversations, and this digitization of the workplace includes offering healthcare in a modern way that is as intuitive as online shopping.6

Helping prospective and existing employees access healthcare can be a key employer value proposition, which can reduce the cost and time to hire11, while improving employee retention rates1, particularly among the 16 percent of Canadians who don’t have a family physician7.

Employers such as Desjardins and Cossette are driving usage and, by extension the competitive advantages of virtual care, by ensuring employees receive ongoing communication about when and how to use it.

Supporting a healthy workforce

Another growing expectation of employees is that their employers will help them get healthy and stay healthy. Yet a study by Morneau Shepell shows that 60 percent of Canadians are living with some form of chronic illness8, such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and, increasingly, mental illness.

Mental illness alone costs Canadian employers $6.3-billion per year in lost productivity and it’s the number one cause of disability among employees. Despite progress in reducing the stigma around mental illness, two-thirds of people suffering from it don’t seek treatment.2

With half a million Canadians missing work each week for mental health reasons2, reducing barriers to treatment is key to keeping the workforce healthy. Access to care is a key barrier to employees seeking support with mental health concerns; happily, there is abundant evidence that virtual care solutions can have a significant impact.

One program in the U.S. that uses a combination of virtual cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and in-person support has seen a 30 percent reduction in missed appointments, and similar tools in Canada are offering early intervention to reduce treatment costs and disability claims, while preventing absences.2

A healthy, present, productive workforce with on-demand access to the care it needs offers significant competitive advantages over those struggling with absenteeism and growing costs.

New ways to drive productivity.

It’s important to note that health-related absenteeism isn’t just about employees getting sick; they are also missing work to access healthcare. One study found Canadians are missing between two and six days of work per year, just to attend medical appointments. That number doubles for employees who need to take their children to the doctor9.

The costs of health-related absenteeism are at a staggering $16-billion in lost revenue for Canadian employers10, suggesting a strong business case to make it easier for employees to access healthcare on their own terms and at times and places that are most convenient. The Medisys Health Group report calculates that a mid-sized company can recover more than 2,600 hours of productivity and save $174,000 if even half of their employees use virtual care. Those savings balloon to over 9,800 hours and $673,000 in savings for larger organizations2.

The best news is there is no perceived reduction in the effectiveness of treatment or in the patient’s experience when they connect with healthcare providers virtually. In fact, with virtual care, the amount of the appointment time spent face-to-face with the doctor is 95 percent, versus just 20 percent with a regular visit that involves travelling and waiting.2

Moving to a virtual care model isn’t just good for the bottom line, it’s good for our economy and our healthcare system. By reducing wait times, emergency room visits, missed appointments and access barriers, virtual care can make sure all Canadians get the treatment they need when they need it.

With most major insurers on board, benefits advisors can play a key role in helping employers find the right virtual care solution. When employers can attract and engage top talent, reduce costs and support a healthy, productive workforce, they can out-compete their counterparts while improving the quality of life for Canadians.

To learn more about how virtual healthcare can make Canadian organizations healthier and more competitive, download the Medisys Virtual Healthcare Industry Report today.

Fuller, J.B., and Raman, M. (2019). The caring company: How employers can help employees manage their caregiving responsibilities – while reducing costs and increasing productivity. Harvard Business School.
Medisys Health Group. (2019). A 2019 virtual healthcare industry report.
Aon Canada (2018). Group benefits – 2018 priorities.
The Conference Board (2019). C-suite challenge 2019.
CFIB (2018). Help wanted: Private sector job vacancies, Q4 2018.
PWC (2018). Our status with tech at work: It’s complicated.
Statistics Canada (2014). Access to a regular medical doctor.
Morneau Shepell (2016). Forgotten decisions: The disconnect between the plan and reality of Canadians regarding health and finances in retirement.
Murphy, R. (2018). Majority of Canadians have taken time off work for medical appointments: survey. Benefits Canada, September 24, 2018.
The Conference Board of Canada (2013), Missing in action: Absenteeism Trends in Canadian Organizations.
LinkedIn (n.d.). The ultimate list of employer brand statistics for hiring managers, HR professionals and recruiters.

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