Virtual Care Essential Among Employers, Healthcare Providers in Protecting Health, Well-Being

April 13, 2020

Amid the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, the use of telemedicine has expanded among employers and healthcare providers to ensure effective coverage without risking potential exposure.

Providing expansive healthcare coverage for employees amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is a challenge that warrants attention on factors such as mental health and well-being. As many employers develop their distinct strategies to optimize workflow and employee health while working remotely, these organizations additionally have to prepare for the eventual return to the workplace.

In a survey released last week by Willis Towers Watson, employers (n = 654) detailed their plans for employee coverage when businesses reopen, with more than half (55%) stating that they would provide salary continuation for a median of 2 weeks if an employee has to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure. Flexibility for employees was a chief theme across the study, with more than 4 in 5 employers (84%) indicating policies that would allow employees to work from home if they are caring for a sick family member.

As the stark transition to working remotely has grown from 14% among employers before the pandemic to 97% in those surveyed, virtual medical care has grown substantially to provide effective coverage that eliminates risk of potential exposure. In the survey, 86% of employers stated that they are promoting the use of telemedicine, with either a nurse line or virtual visits being offered for medical concerns. Additionally, 58% are increasing access to telebehavioral health, with another 14% planning to do so.

How Are Healthcare Providers Optimizing Virtual Care?

With employers expanding the availability of virtual care to employees, health plans either assigned to or chosen by employees play a chief role in providing these services. In an interview with The American Journal of Managed Care®, Iván Javier Murcia Muñoz, MD, vice president of health at Sanitas USA, discussed how his organization recently partnered with Innovaccer to employ its novel COVID-19 Management System.

The system, which assists healthcare organizations and governments assess patient risk profiles and connects them with virtual care capabilities, was described by Muñoz as an empowering tool for both providers and patients. “Providers and care staff will be empowered with the tools to treat patients with milder symptoms remotely while reserving their energy and resources to continue the necessary hands-on management of high-risk patients….It is a tool that empowers the patients to obtain relevant information and connects remotely with providers quickly and at minimum risk,” said Muñoz.

The ability to complete self-risk assessments can prove vital during the chaos of the pandemic, not only for patients, but healthcare workers as well. “In the areas that are most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare organizations and providers are under immense pressure to address the high surge of patients in the network while risking repeated exposure to the virus themselves,” said Muñoz. “To manage all the challenges that come with the spread of COVID-19, external help is needed and technology can help reduce that burden.”

Through the tool, providers can send CDC support and educational material from within the application to their patients in real-time and can distribute customized, region-based preventive guidelines that may prove critical for populations prone to chronic conditions. In expanding care for beneficiaries, Muñoz also noted the development of a Pandemic Strategic Plan that addresses areas such as epidemiological surveillance, prevention of infections, articulation, coordination, communication, resources, and community management.

“By doing this we guarantee that we respond very early in time, and that as an organization we are prepared to support patients, their families and employees, as we are a ‘person-centered’ organization which is aware of and focused on improving the well-being of local communities,” highlighted Muñoz.