Disability management after COVID: What employers need to know.

Across the country, employers are working on their post-pandemic planning. In addition to setting up new ways of working and new health and safety protocols, many are also anticipating a sharp rise in their disability claims.  With that in mind, how is disability management evolving to help get employees back to work quickly?

The claims crunch.

Mental health concerns have overtaken musculoskeletal issues as the top driver of disability claims. As Canadians continue to struggle with their mental wellness, this trend is likely to continue. In fact, more than half of Canadians say COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their mental wellness, with two-thirds saying isolation was the primary cause of their poor mental health. Making things worse, 24% are unable to access support or treatment. These, and other concerning mental health trends, are driving more disability claims.

On the physical wellness side, claims were down during the first year of the pandemic, largely due to less activity. But new claims drivers may emerge from poor ergonomics for home-based workers and pre-pandemic concerns that were left untreated or undertreated because of reduced access to physicians, physiotherapists, diagnostic resources and surgeries.

Delayed surgeries and other interventions will also have an impact on how quickly employees can return to work, with some estimates saying it may take well over a year to clear the surgery backlog across the country. This may mean further health declines for employees who are waiting for new joints, pacemakers or other treatments.

Another concern employers need to manage is the so-called Long COVID. This describes patients known as Long Haulers: plan members who continue to experience lingering respiratory, cognitive or other symptoms long after they are clear of infection. Some estimates suggest as many as one-quarter of COVID patients continue to experience at least one symptom beyond the three-month mark, meaning some employees may require complex, ongoing disability management.

Proactive prevention.

That old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is particularly appropriate when it comes to rethinking disability management. A good way to start is with an analysis of your coverage. Does your benefits offering address new kinds of disability claims, such as Long COVID? Do you have pre-emptive benefits that allow plan members to access the care they need when they need it? For example, virtual care may help connect members to specialized clinical services from the privacy and convenience of their homes. Some mental wellness resources also offer self-directed digital programs that can address PTSD, anxiety and other concerns.

Virtual pharmacy services are emerging as another tool group health benefits managers can offer plan members as a way to access care. For example, Telus Health Virtual Pharmacy offers online medication management and ordering, along with on-demand consultations with licensed pharmacists to discuss side effects, health lifestyles, and other concerns.

Modernize your EAP.

It’s no secret that most employee assistance programs (EAPs) are under-utilized. Now is the time to assess whether your EAP is helping to reduce disability risk by offering easy access to a range of integrated wellbeing supports.

Modern EAP approaches, such as LifeJourney, personalize the experience by assigning Care Advocates to each patient. These Advocates book appointments with physicians, therapists, lawyers, financial advisors and other professionals, and follow up to help ensure members are seeing results. Make sure your EAP is able to address a holistic view of wellbeing.

Technology supports return to work.

A good employee experience is key to ensuring plan members take advantage of proactive disability prevention services. For example, make sure all plan members can easily sign up and access information about their benefits when and where it’s convenient for them, and be sure to ask your plan administrator about tools, such as My health benefits, that can streamline claims submission for employees.

When employees must take a disability leave, case managers are key to helping them return to work as quickly as possible with the support and resources they need to help them stay healthy, which can be particularly challenging with mental health concerns. Our Disability Management Support Services (DMSS) give case managers the tools they need to tailor a personal program for employees. From arranging assessments quickly, to delivering quality virtual care and return-to-work support, DMSS can streamline case managers’ tasks so they can focus on helping your workforce get healthy and stay healthy. Ask your administrator or insurer about virtual support for case managers.

At TELUS Health, we continue to innovate digital solutions for patient care, efficient technologies and expert support to create a healthier future for all people in Canada.

Learn more about our healthy workforce solutions.

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