Health and productivity is affected by a lack of access to care, according to Dr. Hanif Jamal, Canadian medical director at Teledoc Health, during a webinar hosted by Benefits Canada.

Referring to a recent survey by the Canadian Medical Association, he noted 73 per cent of Canadians said they believe virtual care will improve access, followed by more timely treatments (71 per cent), more convenience than in-person doctor visits (67 per cent) and improved overall health care (63 per cent).

“Between pressures impeding access to care and Canadians’ readiness to give virtual care a try, the time is now for employers to figure out how to make telemedicine available as an employee benefit,” he said.

Read: Canadians cite 91% satisfaction rate with virtual health care

Employers are aligning themselves with virtual-care providers, said Dave Angus, president of Johnston Group, also speaking during the webinar. He noted this move has been positive for the benefits industry in terms of quick access to health care and what that means for employee health outcomes. “Oftentimes, when you introduce new products, it takes a while for the market to catch up, but the coronavirus has accelerated the impact and adoption.”

Telemedicine has a triaging benefit, which has been emphasized through the coronavirus experience as people are wanting symptom assessments, he added, noting this provides quick peace of mind to employees and their employers. The benefits of telemedicine are vast, he said, including speed to diagnosis, treatment and remedy. “Longer wait times are a challenge as it relates to access, which has an impact on businesses where employees have to take time off work — sometimes hours, sometimes days — to address a particular health issue.”

The feedback from employees who’ve used telemedicine services lines up with some of the systemic issues faced in Canadian health care, noted Angus, and these problems impact both employees and their dependants. However, from the business side, the advantages around higher productivity and lower absenteeism, are obvious, as healthier employees lead to less burden on benefits plans. “Healthier employees are also happier employees who are also more productive.”

Read: Teladoc, Johnston Group rolling out telemedicine services to SMEs

One of the other big advantages of virtual care is equitability regardless of location, which is often tied to socioeconomic status, said Dr. Jamal. “With virtual care, it’s like we all live in the same neighbourhood. Telemedicine erases the borders because physicians are able to provide care to everybody.”

Virtual-health services is a significant tool, particularly for Indigenous communities that really struggle with access to timely health care, said Angus. Since the timeframe to access can be exponentially more compared to people who live in an urban centre, quality of care is often sacrificed in favour of the easiest, shortest route, instead of the right one, he added. “Telemedicine platforms help overcome some of the geographic limitations that some businesses and their employees in rural or First Nations communities face.”

Dr. Jamal also said he expects telemedicine to have a major role in return-to-work protocols post-coronavirus, since the pandemic has resulted in an increased accessibility and adoption of virtual-health solutions. As employers implement virtual-care services, they’re becoming a convenient go-to option for employees who need to connect with health-care experts about their concerns and symptoms, he added. “A proper return-to-work strategy addresses coronavirus, protects the concerns of employees and builds confidence across the workforce that going back to work is safe.”

Read: Five workplace changes that should stay post-coronavirus

For employers that already include virtual care in their benefits plan, it’s important to remind employees about the service and how easy it is to use, noted Dr. Jamal. “This information will create a new level of confidence among employees and employers to turn to virtual-care benefits when they think it makes sense.”

Find out what you missed by accessing the full webinar here.