Copyright_Sebastien Decoret_123RF

Consumers across the globe have adopted digital services into their everyday lives, personalizing the way they pay bills, shop and plan vacations. Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, they’re using the virtual world to personalize their health care, said Joby McKenzie, Teladoc Health’s managing director in Canada, during Benefits Canada’s 2021 Benefits & Pension Summit.

Before the pandemic, only four per cent of Canadians were able to access virtual care, despite this being their preference, noted McKenzie, citing data from Canada Health Infoway. But the survey found, since the start of the crisis, almost half (47 per cent) of Canadians now access virtual care, with 91 per cent very satisfied with this experience.

Going forward, she added, virtual is expected to be the default option in health care. “This pandemic and these changes that everyday people are experiencing in their life have led to many re-evaluating their health service plans.”

Read: Employers planning for post-pandemic future focusing on employee well-being, virtual health care

Citing results from a recent Aon survey, McKenzie said 60 per cent of plan sponsors are looking to improve and re-evaluate their mental-health offering and 11 per cent are rethinking coverage from the ground up.

This is a real paradigm shift, she added, noting it presents an opportunity for employers to consider what the future has in store and what plan members want. Even before the onset of the public health crisis, chronic disease was on the rise — whether it’s the four million Canadians who have diabetes or six million who are pre-diabetic, she said, citing data from Diabetes Canada. As well, she noted Canadians are exhausted by the pandemic, which is showing up in their mental wellness. According to Statistics Canada, 55 per cent of Canadians said they had excellent or very good mental health in 2020, compared to 68 per cent in 2019.

Plan sponsors must provide employees with a way to access health services through a whole person approach that delivers the most value, said McKenzie, adding plan members want care that fits their lives and evolving health needs. She noted the health-care journey can be confusing in terms of navigating the complicated health ecosystem.

Read: How to manage the employee mental-health tsunami

Although many Canadians have access to a primary care physician, half can’t get an appointment to see them within one or two days, said McKenzie, and only half of primary care practitioners provide after-hours care in Canada. Just as people expect convenience in other aspects of their lives, they also expect it now with health care, she added.

For plan sponsors, some of the ways to help create a better experience for plan members is to streamline access in a way that makes it easy for them to understand where and how to get the care they need in a timely and convenient way, she noted. A Sage Growth Partners study found 71 per cent of companies would prefer to have their many health solutions provided by a single vendor, she added, pointing out it’s complicated enough for members to navigate health services — and even more so when they have to go to several different places to receive care.

“Despite plan sponsors having hundreds or thousands of members, health is a very personalized experience. Everyone has different goals, motivations, health challenges, genetics and stages of life. A whole person virtual-care approach empowers employees by putting the right tools and information in their hands.”

Read: One year later: How the pandemic sped up the shift to virtual mental-health care