As the entire world continues to evolve in light of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the workplace is scrambling to keep up. The shift toward remote work has been exponential, causing employers to navigate many uncharted waters. This includes how to properly communicate with their employees about COVID-19, how to keep remote employees engaged, and how to provide employees with the resources to stay healthy.
Although many healthcare systems already had a telemedicine practice in place, none were prepared for the surge of virtual patients that COVID-19 provoked. Fortunately, the telehealth infrastructure is expanding rapidly and many providers are doing their part to ease the pressure on the healthcare system.
That being said, as an employer, there has never been a more important time to consider the telemedicine options you provide and communicate them to your employees. Here are three important considerations for approaching telehealth.
Why is telemedicine so important?
As most are already aware of, COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that spreads at alarming rates. Because of this, people who think they may have the virus are advised to have a telemedicine consultation prior to going into the hospital. Even better- telemedicine technology can replace some hospital visits altogether. This lowers the risk of spread and alleviates some of the pressure from healthcare workers.
There are hundreds of case studies and articles outlining the importance of staying at home, especially if you think you're sick. It is not only important to the individual and the healthcare workers, but for the overall public health. The AMA sums it up well:
“By reducing unnecessary visits to health care environments, we can curb the exposure to and transmission of infectious disease, while helping to keep our front lines safe and ensure they have the resources needed to take on this immense challenge.”
As an employer, what are my options?
Telemedicine is uncharted territory for many employers. However, you may be surprised to find out that the benefits provider you work with already offers telemedicine services.
Furthermore, as a result of relaxed government policies, rising anxieties, and pure necessity, many health care systems are innovating and adapting to the public’s needs. This includes waiving telemedicine fees, offering more flexible consultation options, like Facetime and Skype, and expanding their geographical requirements for patients. Fortunately, the AMA also reported that physicians will get paid the same rates for telehealth services as they would for in-person visits.
That being said, it is the responsibility for employers to research what fringe benefits are available and consider offering expanded coverage. This could include offering a service to provide free virtual COVID-19 screenings to all employees. Add another telemedicine provider to the employee’s benefits package. Expanded coverage can contribute to improving health and reducing waste long term.
Some startups, such as Pager and Hims and Hers, are trying to enter the space to minimize the pressure on the health care system. Check out a comprehensive list of vendors offering extensive telehealth services here. Listen to your employees, consult with professionals, and do extensive research to figure out which is best for your company.
My company’s healthcare benefits provide telemedicine, what now?
Whether you discover the telemedicine options your existing providers offer are sufficient, or decide to offer employees with a completely new service, one thing is clear: Communicate, communicate, communicate.
It is vital that you inform your employees of the telehealth services that their benefits plans cover in a timely, efficient manner.
Your communications should help them see how important it is to stay home and how easy it is to do at-home appointments. There should be no confusion on the options that you provide.
Additionally, employers should be communicating other health precautions, like the importance of social distancing and hand washing.
Overall, it cannot be understated: Your benefits communications have enormous power. Not only can telemedicine provide physical care, the knowledge of that option can alleviate the stress, anxiety, and paranoia that employees are likely already experiencing. Do your part to reduce panic and affirm to employees that their, and their family’s health is in good hands.
As the telehealth policies and services continue to change, stay informed so that you can communicate them with your employees.
For more tips on communicating with your employees during COVID-19