COVID has completely shaken our economy and created challenges for employers that are really unprecedented. At the risk of sounding cliché, the “new normal” as it’s so often referred to will present many challenges as employers think about how to proceed with the new way of doing business. The reality is, “new normal” will take on many different forms. Yes, many employers will continue with remote work or a hybrid office strategy. But many still are very interested in re-opening their doors as soon as possible. Then there’s essential workers, factory workers, and folks who don’t have the option of working from home. Their “new normal” will be very different from more white-collar industries who have made commitments to stay remote for the foreseeable future. All of this makes for some interesting times for healthcare services providers and consultants who are doing their best to provide proper guidance. As we settle into what promises to be an interesting 2021, there are a few things that we’re already seeing emerge as points of focus for employers. Preventive care and a re-definition of primary care and primary care delivery are at the heart of these predictions.
"The reality is, “new normal” will take on many different forms. Yes, many employers will continue with remote work or a hybrid office strategy. But many still are very interested in re-opening their doors as soon as possible."
1.Employers will place more emphasis and focus on employee diagnostics and offer more diagnostic services in the workplace. As a preventive measure, employers are already placing an intense focus on diagnostic services to help place employee safety at the core of their re-opening strategy. Now, we’re starting to see employers with a real interest in opening their doors and a need to do so in a way that prioritizes employee safety. Onsite testing and vaccination services will be commonplace in the workplace if they aren’t already. Temperature checks and daily health questionnaires will be as well. Employers now need a plan for what to do in the case of an infection. Contact tracing, policies and protocols, workplace design, etc. have all become important. But actual diagnostic and preventative services provided onsite through your employer will no longer be a nice to have offering (i.e.: flu shots), but a necessary tool to keep employees safe.
2. Behavioral health and virtual behavioral health tools will continue to emerge as a huge piece of the benefits strategy. Before COVID, we had a mental health crisis in America. Employers were already considering their options and virtual tools were becoming more commonplace as a part of the benefits program. By all accounts, the pandemic has exacerbated the mental health crisis in America. A 2019 Substance Abuse & Mental Health study showed that 16.5 million Americans said they needed mental health treatment or counseling but didn’t receive it. A recent CDC poll showed that 31% of Americans reported signs of anxiety and depression. The growing spotlight on mental health and the exponentially growing need for services combined with a major shortage of providers will mean that employers will need to offer virtual options to their employees as a standard part of their healthcare strategy. Employee well-being is still too important to productivity for employers not to pay attention.
3. Virtual Primary Care will gain in popularity and become more widely offered. Right now the majority of telemedicine is virtual urgent care. “Sick care” if you will. You have a medical concern, and you schedule a virtual consult. You hope that the person on the other end has the ability to diagnose, treat, or triage you based on your conditions and their state’s telemedicine practice laws. Primary care attribution in the United States is already low and declining. Access is a problem in many rural areas. Simply put, not enough Americans are engaging regularly with a PCP, and it’s hurting our overall health outcomes as a society. In a COVID world, you add in the dynamic of fear. People are hesitant to visit their doctor for fear of infection. Virtual care is and needs to continue to evolve to encompass primary and preventive care. Employers with an interest in keeping their employees healthy will start to provide options.
Our healthcare system needs to evolve. As the predominant funders of healthcare in America, employers will need to evolve their ways of thinking. Employee health, safety and well-being are key components that need to be addressed in order for us to re-open this country and get back on track.