Telehealth: Why more employers are expanding benefits

Employers in Canada have a 'window of opportunity' to redefine healthcare benefits

Telehealth: Why more employers are expanding benefits

Emerging as a trend prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual healthcare services are now part of the “new reality” of employee benefits planning in Canada, findings of a new study suggest.

One in three Canadian employers incorporated virtual health consultations into their existing benefits package long before the outbreak began.

Now, 19% more have added online platforms as a means to support workers seeking medical advice, according to research from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans (IFEBP).

Employers are also shifting to virtual mental health consultations: 10% began offering the benefit at the height of the pandemic, but 15% more are considering similar moves in the coming months.

Read more: Is your benefits plan keeping pace with our rapidly evolving world?

Investing in telehealth
Canada was an “early pioneer” of the virtual care movement in the 1970s, but it has since been eclipsed by other countries in expanding these services, said Dr. Ahmad Firas Khalid, research manager at Evidence Aid, a non-profit that collates data on health emergencies such as COVID-19.

Citing 2018 data, Dr. Khalid said only 9% of Canadians turned to virtual health services prior to the coronavirus outbreak. But people later witnessed the benefit of using video and mobile technology – two of the most accessible platforms for telehealth – to access services when the outbreak turned into a global health crisis.

“Our healthcare system should capitalize on this window of opportunity and invest in telehealth infrastructure by training healthcare providers in online consultations and offering patients ways to access their healthcare providers remotely,” Dr. Khalid shared on The Conversation.

Telehealth services can also help patients save millions of dollars by eliminating the need for them to take time off work and travel to a clinic for a quick medical advice.

Read more: 'Flexible & rich' benefits: The key to COVID-19 communications?

Of course, virtual healthcare services cannot replace traditional in-person consultations. “Not every medical problem can be resolved through telehealth because some require physical examination,” Dr. Khalid said. But telehealth is useful “for urgent issues that need quick triage”.

Online consultations are therefore part of a new era in health care. “Employers across Canada have made changes to their plans to adapt to the new reality,” said Julie Stich, vice president of IFEBP.

“We’re seeing employers make decisions to ensure not only the health and well-being of their workforce but also the financial stability and long-term success of their organization,” she said.

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