Virtual care among ‘dramatic change’ predicted for benefits plans in future

One of the biggest changes in the benefits industry over the next five years will be the movement towards virtual care as a standalone category, said Tim Clarke at Benefits Canada‘s Benefits & Pension Summit in Toronto on Monday.

“Whether you’re talking about telemedicine, whether you’re talking about virtual [cognitive behavioural therapy], you think about what goes on and what you’re reimbursed for in your benefits program today. Almost everything requires a person-to-person interaction for you to be reimbursed,” said Clarke, president of TC Consulting Inc., during the event at the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

“That is going to change dramatically over the next few years.” 

Read: A look at video health-care visits as an option for plan sponsors

As a result, benefits plans will need to adapt, he added. “Everything else we do is virtual. We do a lot more shopping at Amazon than we do at the corner store. As that moves into the health-care world, we need to see our benefits programs adapt to that virtual world. They’re not there today, and I think it’s going to be a dramatic change over the next few years,” he said.

Also speaking during a panel discussion on the role of technology in benefits plans, Anne Nicoll, vice-president of business development at Medavie Blue Cross, cited the growth of online cognitive behavioural therapy. She also foresees care providers, such as psychiatrists, family doctors and counsellors, all being able to share information about a patient in order to improve outcomes.

Read: 2018 Group Benefits Providers Report: Navigating the digital deluge

During the panel discussion, moderator Serafina Morgia, director of health and benefits consulting at Willis Towers Watson, asked what technology trends would create the greatest efficiency gains or cost-management opportunities for employers. Wayne Millar, vice-president of marketing and digital solutions at Sun Life Financial, said he expects to see more price transparency in areas such as drugs, dentistry, chiropractic work and other health-care services.

I think that new technology will bring a lot more transparency into the system,” he said, predicting plan members would be able to look up the costs for items such as compression socks and possibly compare provider prices.

Read: Get creative in making space for new technologies in benefits plans

Millar also foresees doctors having the ability to see a patient’s coverage and carrier information that they can then take into account when prescribing medication.

Clarke said he looks to interconnected devices in other industries, such as those offered by automobile insurers that track someone’s driving habits and printers that can automatically order ink when they run low.

“Let’s take some of these ideas and implement them in benefits and health insurance and life insurance,” said Clarke.

Read: New digital HR assistant uses AI to answer employee questions