One of the key outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the rapid adoption of virtual care by both Canadians and their healthcare practitioners. Many employers are now thinking about adding virtual care to their benefits as a way to support, retain and, eventually, attract employees. The good news is, there is plenty of choice, the bad news is, not all virtual care is the same. As you assess your virtual care offering, here are five important elements to assess.
- How long have they been in the market?
- Do they have deep experience in the Canadian healthcare system?
- How do they evaluate the quality of their practitioners?
- Do they have a reputation as a healthcare innovator?
The best benefits are the ones employees actually use and feel make a difference in their lives. While virtual care has some obvious benefits, particularly for the more than four million Canadians without a family doctor, the overall experience for your employees and their families will be key in getting the most value out of your investment.And don’t forget about the employer experience as well. For example, some service providers help employers roll out the program to employees with quality videos, posters and other materials. The process and speed of getting employees on-boarded to the program is another important consideration. Ask these questions about the user experience of the solution:
- Is the service available 24/7/365, wherever you might be in the world?
- Does it work on any device, including mobile devices and PCs?
- Is service available in English and French?
- Can employees get help on demand, or do they need to schedule a consultation?
- Is it available to other members of the family and easy to use?
- Does the app connect to a human practitioner quickly?
While digital virtual care is still relatively new in Canada, there is a demonstrated demand. In fact 71% of Canadians are willing to trade-off current benefits for improved access to healthcare professionals and technology supported services like virtual care, and approximately two-thirds of patient visits with primary care providers are now virtual. This makes it very important for employers to work with a partner that can keep pace with both a growing workforce and exponential increases in use.With all this pent-up demand, employers should make scalability a top consideration so that employees’ needs will be met as their expectations change. Virtual care offerings will evolve from access to primary care to include holistic solutions that integrate data from multiple sources such as fitness trackers and home healthcare devices. Ask your potential providers these questions:
- Can the solution handle large employee groups?
- Can your organization quickly add new members following a merger or acquisition?
- What is their strategy to recruit additional practitioners to keep pace with demand?
- Is the platform responsive enough to meet changing consumer preferences?
As virtual care scales in Canada, it’s likely that employees’ expectations will grow as well. Today, most virtual solutions focus on accessing primary care from physicians, nurses and nurse practitioners. But as in the physical world, virtual care will increasingly be viewed as part of a holistic care continuum that includes mental wellness, clinical specialists, health coaching and more. Choosing a partner that can build a comprehensive care solution tailored for employees will be critical. Some questions to ask include:
- Other than nurses and physicians, what kinds of healthcare support is available?
- Is there an offering for employees with mental health concerns?
- Does the solution allow for asynchronous consultations by email or text?
- Can the platform give access to other resources, such as reference materials or videos?
- Do they offer allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, dieticians and pharmacists?
A good place to start is to ensure the provider has expertise in complying with Canada’s complex privacy and healthcare regulations. Another consideration is understanding where patient data is stored and who has access to it. Other questions might include:
- How does the service provider protect the data?
- What privacy standards does the service comply with?
- How is user verification managed?
- Do they have a track record of keeping user data safe?
Offering virtual care as part of your benefits package will help employees get access to the care they and their families need. Choosing the right partner today will ensure your program delivers value for many years to come.
 Statistics Canada (2014). Access to a regular medical doctor. www150.statcan.gc.ca
 Medisys Health Group (2019). Virtual Healthcare in Canada: The Solution at Our Fingertips.
 American Medical Association, 2019. AMA Digital Health Research.