Learn the value of telehealth within in your occupational health practice
It’s amazing to think how the way we interact with some of our most essential services has changed. We can complete our banking needs online, virtually check-in for flights, book our favorite restaurant in a few clicks, and even peruse the grocery store aisles from our mobile device, place our orders, and pick up our goods right on our doorsteps. Access and convenience have never been more valued. And it is no exception within the healthcare landscape.
Virtual healthcare has the power to utterly transform how employees can access and receive high-quality healthcare services from their employer’s occupational health team.
In this blog, we’ll answer the following questions:
- How is telehealth changing the occupational health landscape?
- How does telehealth video conferencing enhance personal healthcare experiences?
- What are things to consider when introducing telehealth to your workplace?
Telehealth Needs From an Occupational Health Perspective
The way we work has changed. 71% of organizations now expect their employees to work within a ‘hybrid’ or ‘remote’ model for the foreseeable future, according to a 2022 study that surveyed over 400 IT and business decision-makers in the U.S.
Alongside this, the healthcare landscape has rapidly shifted. We have entered an age of digitally enabled care. Technology is expanding available healthcare delivery models, including fully integrated in-person and telehealth options that optimize care delivery according to clinical need, convenience and cost.
Shifting viewpoints on what individuals expect from their workplace occupational health services may explain some of this change. As employees demand more flexibility in how they can assess and receive care, along with a more personalized care experience, organizations are beginning to respond. In their ‘Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey’, Business Group on Health reports that 57 percent of employers plan to add more virtual solutions to their occupational health programs in 2023, with 84 percent viewing the integration of in-person and telehealth as essential to achieve their key health and wellbeing objectives.
The time for virtual occupational health services has come. It’s more important than ever that occupational health experts begin thinking of ways to connect clinicians with employees, wherever they are.
Advantages of Adding Telehealth to Your Occupational Health Practice
Investing in telehealth services allows organizations to offer improved access to high-quality healthcare across a large operating footprint, leading to higher clinical efficiency, better program cost control, and improved health outcomes.
Telehealth helps expand an occupational health clinic’s coverage radius, allowing them to continue to deliver high-quality care to employees even when they reside far from the clinic – reducing the need for those employees to travel to receive care. Additionally, when providers see patients remotely, providers and employees alike reduce their potential exposures to infectious diseases that individuals may carry into the clinic – especially during specific time periods (e.g., “flu season”).
2. Efficiency & Cost Optimization
Telehealth options are being increasingly adopted by employers as an efficient and cost-effective means for delivering health services to their workforce, while reducing the costs associated with injury/illness-related absences. According to the Integrated Benefits Institute, poor employee health costs U.S. employers $880 billion annually, including $530 billion in absence-related productivity losses. The ability for occupational health staff to remotely assess employees enables them to fast-track treatment plans and recovery times, which lowers those costs.
Reducing in-clinic wait times and increasing clinic throughput is often another benefit realized from the addition of telehealth solutions to your company’s occupational health program. Telehealth appointments conducted through HIPAA-compliant solutions usually allow documentation sharing and many times employees can complete pre-visit forms via telehealth platforms, helping expedite the appointment time. Providers offering telehealth services may even realize lower overhead costs, enabling them to reinvest that money into direct employee care. The average telehealth visit ranges from $40-$50, while in-person care can cost as much as $176, according to a study by Dale H. Yamamoto of Red Quill Consulting, Inc. Moreover, telehealth can reduce operational disruptions and their associated costs, as employees will not have to leave their regular jobs when visiting a health clinic for a scheduled health check, immunization, or medical surveillance appointment.
3. Health Outcomes
It’s estimated that U.S. employers spend an average of $3 million per year on their workplace health & wellness initiatives. Yet, despite this investment, normal employee participation rates in those initiatives rarely exceed 25%, either due to workers viewing the programs as inconvenient or not applicable to them. And while businesses are starting to adjust their programs to better reflect the specific health and well-being needs of the workforce, organizations are increasingly looking for ways to further encourage workers to take a more active role in their health and well-being, including designing their programs to offer employees more choice and flexibility in the care they want and when and where they want to receive it.
The flexibility and convenience offered by telehealth solutions is one way employers can bridge the gap and encourage their workers to become more actively engaged in workplace wellness programs, where some of those services – including periodic health screenings and consultations – may be completed via telehealth, at a time and place most convenient to the employee. Moreover, where the organization only has a limited number of clinicians that speak other languages, telehealth services can help connect employees to providers to receive care in their preferred language, reducing appointment no-shows due to language barriers, and ensuring employees can interact fully in health discussions and treatment options.
Telehealth enables health providers to intervene early and address employees’ physical or mental health concerns at the time of need, reducing recovery and return to work times and improving overall employee health outcomes.
Telehealth Integration Considerations
Employer adoption of telehealth options within their occupational health programs is expected to grow by over 30% over the next 2 years. For organizations interested in incorporating telehealth into their programs, here are a few key things to consider before you get started:
- One unified solution: There are as many teleconferencing solutions available as there are software offerings to help you better manage your occupational health programs. It is therefore vital that these systems can ‘speak’ to one another with seamless end-to-end integration. The benefit of one unified solution provides occupational health staff with a single application to schedule and conduct telehealth appointments for employees while also providing the clinician at the time of the appointment with the necessary employee health information and charting capabilities.
- Data security and privacy: Choosing a platform that helps your organization securely communicate and safeguard sensitive employee health data is paramount. Selecting a solution with the most robust data security features available will provide your business with confidence that high-quality telehealth occupational health services can be delivered without ever compromising employee health privacy or exposing the business to legal liability from non-compliance.
- Telehealth’s ‘fit’ in the Occupational Health continuum of care: Occupational Health clinics will need to decide where telehealth best fits in their practice. As discussed, telehealth gives physicians tools to engage employees remotely and improves their overall health care experience. It also gives employees tools to connect with clinicians when time and convenience matter, when they want increased engagement with their health provider, or when they are challenged with accessing care. Since telehealth can be combined with in-person visits to diversify an employee’s care options, it is essential to identify which employees and services are a good fit for telehealth and decide when it is best to offer virtual occupational health options in your workplace.
Telehealth is here to stay, but ensuring a fully integrated, secure solution fits into the continuum of care will help organizations realize its full potential.
Kent, J. April 2019. Larger employers to average $3.6M on wellness programs in 2019. Health Payer Intelligence. Accessed at https://healthpayerintelligence.com/news/large-employers-to-average-3.6m-on-wellness-programs-in-2019
Harvey, M. August 2016. Can technology drive engagement in wellness programs? Hero Health. https://hero-health.org/blog/can-technology-drive-engagement-in-wellness-programs/