In a climate of increasing inflation risk and waning COVID concerns, many Americans are finding themselves spending more time worrying about their financial health over their physical health.
New research conducted by OnePoll for MDLIVE, an Evernorth company and a provider of virtual care services in the United States, reveals that 72% of Americans are somewhat or very concerned about the health of their finances, while only 59% feel the same way about their personal health.
While it goes without saying that the healthier the workforce, the more productive they are—not to mention the lower the healthcare costs for an employer—it is important to understand why Americans are putting off their health care and what employers can do to reverse this trend.
The OnePoll research identified a prominent barrier to consumers’ putting off routine health care: concerns about cost and time. Thirty-nine percent say prioritizing their personal health care would be too expensive or force them to dip into money earmarked for other things, and another 47% admit to putting off personal healthcare routines because they are too busy.
While neither of these barriers is unique to the current economic climate, we can expect them, especially concerns about cost, to become more pronounced during challenging economic times.
So, it begs the question for every employer: Knowing our employees are not prioritizing their own health, how do we encourage them to stay healthy and help them return to good health when they get sick or are living with a chronic health condition?
Promoting Wellness and Good Healthcare Habits in Your Organization
There are some basic steps employers can take to encourage employees to take care of their health, most notably making it easy for them to take time for wellness screenings and routine preventive care. If you aren’t already, consider offering incentives for any employee who does a wellness screening or partakes in other activity or lifestyle choices known to positively impact health. Wellness incentives have repeatedly been proven to work in motivating employees to take care of their health.
Another step employers can take is bringing health care to their employees through worksite clinics, whether permanent, pop-up, or mobile units. A 2021 survey from the National Association of Worksite Health Centers shows that 52% of eligible employees and 32% of dependents accessed services through worksite clinics in 2020, with utilization remaining largely unchanged even after many workers went remote.
Also, sick bodies and minds need time to rest and recuperate. According to a study conducted for MDLIVE by OnePoll in 2021, 42% of U.S. working adults were more stressed or anxious over the past year about taking a sick day to care for themselves or someone else than in years past. Make sure your leadership fosters an environment where employees feel comfortable taking a day off when they or a family member are sick or need a mental health day.
And speaking of mental health, we’ve all seen the news: America is experiencing a mental health crisis that began long before the pandemic. Mental health should be a priority in your organization, and employees should know what resources are available to them—either through their health plan or through the company’s employee assistance program—to help them work through any mental health issues.
The Value of Telehealth in Addressing Affordability and Time Concerns
As a family physician and practicing virtual care provider, I also would encourage employers to revisit the telehealth options they offer employees to address affordability and time concerns.
It has been shown that virtual health care saves money for the patient, the payor, and the employer. One recent analysis shows the average cost of a virtual urgent care visit is $141 less than the average cost of being seen at an urgent care clinic.
Plus, the convenience of virtual care cannot be disputed. Patients can schedule appointments to fit around their busy schedules and don’t have to worry about travel to and from doctors’ offices or sitting in a waiting room. Another important benefit of virtual care is that it can improve access to important health services, such as primary care and behavioral health services, shortening wait times for an appointment in some cases from weeks or months to a few days.
Virtual care providers have made great strides during the past 2 years in expanding from our roots in urgent care and treating common acute conditions, such as sinusitis, cold, flu, and urinary tract infections, to being able to address whole person health.
Today, virtual care providers can address a broad range of routine healthcare needs, including wellness screenings, lab orders, specialist referrals, medication management and prescription refills, smoking cessation, sleep issues, acne and other common skin conditions, anxiety, depression, and many other mental health concerns.
But it doesn’t end with just routine care. Now, more and more patients are utilizing telehealth providers to manage their chronic condition, such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol.
As chronic conditions often represent a disproportionate amount of a health plan sponsor’s costs, it is in everyone’s best interest to find ways to support employees struggling with them. Research from MDLIVE shows that one in five people with chronic conditions do not work with a primary care physician (PCP) or specialist to manage their condition. Even among those who do work with a doctor, 30% report having difficulty getting an appointment. When these challenges create gaps in care, telehealth options can provide support by giving employees quick and convenient access to a PCP along with other services to support their efforts to make important lifestyle changes. For patients who do have a local PCP, top telehealth platforms can provide a visit summary to their local provider to support continuity of care.
Most importantly, consumers today are open to using telehealth for more of their healthcare needs. According to the 2022 Evernorth Health Care in Focus Report, 57% of consumers surveyed reported having used some type of telehealth during the past 12 months, and 75% agreed that more care will be provided virtually in the future.
Additionally, an MDLIVE study from June 2021 showed that health plan satisfaction among members who used their virtual care benefits was nearly two times greater than members who were not aware of their virtual care benefits.
While virtual care is not the only solution, it does provide opportunities for your team members to prioritize their health while alleviating some of the barriers keeping them from taking care of themselves.
Dr. Vontrelle Roundtree is the Interim Chief Medical Officer at MDLIVE.