Meeting the growing need for mental health with virtual care

Long before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted everyone’s lives, a large portion of the working population had mental-health issues that affected their jobs and performance.

But the pandemic has drastically amplified mental-health issues such as anxiety, insomnia and depression, in turn spiking the demand for reliable resources, said Karen Grant, vice-president of strategy and operations at Teladoc Health, during a session at Benefits Canada’s 2020 Mental Health Summit on Nov. 12.

To better understand the pandemic’s impact on employees’ mental health, the organization commissioned a study that found 50 per cent of Canadian employees said their mental health has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus. In addition, 39 per cent of employers said they’ve added mental-health resources, waived fees and/or opened dialogue around workplace mental health.

Read: Webinar: Expanding access to high-quality health care with telemedicine

With face-to-face contact continuing to be risky, employees are more ready than ever to receive health-care services virtually, said Grant, noting online mental-health services have opened the door for faster and more effective care.

Also speaking during the session, Ken Bowman, vice-president of claims at RBC Insurance, said about 30 per cent of all of the insurer’s group disability claims are related to mental health. The organization realized it had to find a different way to address plan members’ mental-health needs.

“We needed to partner with a virtual health company to put together a comprehensive program that would provide quick access to a mental-health specialist and get the client better,” he said.

In partnership with Teledoc, RBC Insurance created the Onward Program, which starts with the plan member meeting with an advocate to begin assessment and conduct diagnostic testing. “Holding the client’s hand is very important for the client experience,” said Bowman said. “From a clinical outcomes perspective, it allows the client to focus on recovery.”

Read: 67% of working Canadians would use virtual tools for mental health: survey

Next, the clinical team reviews and assesses the case and develops an expert, evidence-based recommendation. “Early intervention is really critical for success and this is one of the advantages of the program,” he said, noting individually tailored treatment is delivered by licensed practitioners through a secure purpose-built mobile platform that plan members can access from the safety of their own home.

In the 12 months between October 2019 and September 2020, RBC Insurance data showed the program’s outcome, with 76 per cent of plan members’ diagnoses changing, 76 per cent of plan members’ treatments changing and 88 per cent of plan members’ medications changing.

From a plan sponsor’s perspective, virtual mental-health support can help employees get back to work faster and help manage costs associated with absenteeism and lost productivity. “Making sure there’s a strong focus on coping strategies and mechanisms to help clients succeed when they return to the workplace can also reduce presenteeism,” said Bowman.

Read more coverage of the 2020 Mental Health Summit.