Just 9% of employers offer virtual health care: survey

Despite a growing interest in virtual health care, many employers still aren’t adopting the technology in their benefits plans, according to new research by Medisys Health Group Inc.

Just nine per cent of employer respondents said they offer virtual health care, though more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of employee respondents said they’d use the benefit if it was available. Indeed, 71 per cent of Canadian workers said they’d be willing to trade their current benefits for improved access to health-care professionals.

Read: The role of convenience, personalization in a changing health-care landscape

While virtual care is “very much on the radar” of employers, it’s still a fairly new offering, says Christiane Bourassa, senior director of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson. Many employers are likely choosing to wait because of limited budgets, she adds, noting a recent Willis Towers Watson study found only 35 per cent of employers felt they had enough funds to add a new offering to their benefits plans.

But some organizations that do offer virtual care are pleased with the outcomes. Quebec-based law firm BCF LLP introduced virtual health care in 2016 to address its employees’ challenges in balancing work and health. Many of the firm’s lawyers were skipping medical appointments because of their work schedules, says Solange Goulet, BCF’s chief human resources officer. “We thought [an app] would be very convenient for them and they, at least, would consult a doctor.”

Read: Employers continue to adopt non-traditional perks: study

The law firm’s management team also wanted to reduce the time employees were wasting in waiting to be seen by health-care professionals, says Goulet. “We would have people waiting at the hospital for 24 hours, sometimes more than that. And we wanted our employees to be able to have that service from home . . . and have a consultation, an appointment with a doctor on their phone.”

Indeed, Medisys Health Group’s survey respondents said the benefits of virtual care include being able to access services during late hours and weekends (67 per cent), its convenience (66 per cent) and skipping the long wait times at hospitals during late hours for minor health problems (62 per cent). Benefits also included missing less time at work (47 per cent), more regular visits with a health-care professional (45 per cent) and less stress (29 per cent).

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

Also, certain employee populations are more likely to have a greater need for the technology, according to the survey. It noted parents and caregivers (69 per cent), those dealing with chronic health conditions (70 per cent) and millennials (67 per cent) are most likely to use virtual health-care apps.

And while many employers still haven’t adopted the technology, that’s likely to change in the future, says Bourassa. According to Willis Towers Watson’s study, 58 per cent of employers said they want to be aware of new technology-driven benefits, but just aren’t ready to implement them.