Quebec retirement complex developer Selection Group is giving its employees and residents free access to a virtual care app during the coronavirus crisis and for two months afterward.

The service, through Telus Health, will be available to about 3,000 staff and about 15,000 residents. It will be gradually rolled out across the organization’s complexes over the next three weeks. Selection Group is also providing its employees’ and residents’ spouses free access to the service.

“We were already working on these services before the COVID-19 crisis, but we are proud that we can go forward during the crisis . . .” says Audrey Anne Bouclin, senior director of innovation at Selection Group. “We place the well-being and health of our residents and employees at the heart of our actions and priorities.”

Read: Head to head: Is telemedicine the right approach to employee health care?

Employees and residents can hold secure video and text message consultations with health-care professionals over Akira, the virtual care app. The app puts them in touch with a registered nurse practitioner who can help them diagnose an illness or issue, prescribe some medications and offer medical advice. They can also refer patients to a physician after a video consultation or connect them to a specialist if the situation calls for it.

As well, Telus Health tailored the offering to Selection Group’s unique population, says Luc Vilandré, president of Telus Health and payment solutions. “We worked with them to provide the virtual care connection, but also [for] some of the seniors who would like to have a phone consultation, because in some cases they find it easier, we’ve done that for them.”

He says the company has seen an accelerated demand for virtual health-care solutions as the coronavirus crisis has taken hold. “Some employers want to make sure they get the tool in the hands of employees to manage this situation if they ever get symptoms or if they are anxious . . . [so] they can have rapid access to service.”

Read: How to support employees’ mental health during coronavirus

It’s no surprise that employers are increasingly interested in virtual care apps, says Paula Allen, senior vice-president of research, analytics and innovation at Morneau Shepell Ltd. “A lot of doctors right now are not seeing patients and hospital clinics are limited right now because they want to focus their capacity on people who are ill with COVID-19.”

As well, she notes, the diagnosis process that occurs in a doctor’s office is often the result of a clinical interview, rather than taking tests, which translates well to video meetings. “Hands-on [care] is not required; it’s interview and observation. You can do an interview to get a diagnosis, to get a prescription or a refill or a recommendation that you go get tests. All of that primary medicine and even some specialist medicine can be done by video.”

Employers that are now implementing or considering virtual care should try to integrate the new offering with the services they already provide, including their employee assistance program and disability coverage, notes Allen.

Read: Just 9% of employers offer virtual health care: survey

“Integrate [everything] into that so it’s one coherent platform of strategies for support. It would be fair to call this a time where a lot of people are feeling anxious. And in a crisis you don’t want to confuse your employees by having a bunch of different places to go.”

Further, employers should make sure the virtual care offering is available to all employees, she says, including those who may be off work on short- or long-term disability.

Allen says she suspects that after the crisis passes, employees’ experience with using virtual care apps will change their expectations around accessing health care. “It is highly convenient. Once people actually have the experience, they realize it’s not just because they’re self-isolating that it has value.”

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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