Health technology – from apps to virtual care, plan members are ready for more

Welcome to the final installment of our Sanofi Series Insights – a series of articles created to provide you with insights into highlights of the 2020 Sanofi Healthcare Survey results.

Canadians are ready to embrace technology to manage their health. The Sanofi survey was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and even then an overwhelming 71% of plan members indicated their willingness to use virtual care. In fact, since 2015 there has been a 21% increase in plan member use of digital devices and apps for reasons related to personal health and fitness, according to survey results.

Since the appearance of COVID-19, the appetite for virtual health has risen dramatically and the resulting opportunities for better overall health management are clear. There are many benefits to virtual care and technology in managing health, and accessibility is arguably at the top. While wait times to see a family physician are often high – survey results indicate that only 18% of members could get an in-person appointment with their family physician the same or next day, with the majority (41%) waiting 2-5 days – virtual care can often be provided within hours of initial contact. More than two thirds (69%) of members indicated in the 2020 survey that it is inconvenient for them to go to their doctor to get prescriptions renewed, revealing yet another opportunity for virtual care. No longer are plan members confined to telephonic assessments through provincial health authorities and Employee Assistance Programs, and the race is on to meet the increased demand for virtual healthcare services.

There is no doubt that the future of virtual health holds tremendous potential for all stakeholders. Having on-demand text and video chat accessibility to nurse practitioners, physicians and therapists not only provides plan members with the timely care they need, but also pays dividends to employers if lost time/productivity can be avoided as a result.

When we look deeper at the overall 71% of employees who are willing to use virtual care, the resulting response rate is even higher amongst employees in the 18-34 age demographic and among those organizations with a wellness culture. It is challenging for employers to create a strong wellness culture by simply implementing products and services. Rather, plan sponsors need to ensure that all aspects of their benefit program are cohesive and aligned with a purposeful health and wellness strategy.

Plan sponsors should leverage the virtual care trend by encouraging Health Risk Assessment (HRA) completion, which may be available through their broker, insurer, or third party provider. The HRA provides meaningful data which can be used to evaluate employee health, well-being and lifestyle status, giving organizations an understanding of overall risk areas. It is important to understand the virtual offerings available, choose a product that meets the needs of their specific employee population and openly communicate the details.

COVID-19 has proved to be the ultimate test in just about every facet of our lives, including how we access healthcare. It is clear that virtual care options met this challenge head on with resounding success, with Canadians reporting a 91% satisfaction rate for those who were accessing healthcare virtually[i]. Furthermore, People Connect, People Corporation’s proprietary virtual therapy solution, saw a 177% increase in usage in the early stages of the pandemic.

For routine health concerns, virtual services can eliminate many of the traditional barriers that exist for plan members (lengthy wait times, commuting, and lack of family doctor, to name a few) and these offerings have shown they can deliver during the most difficult of times. Now is the time for employers to capitalize while plan members are enthusiastic and adoption rates are increasing.

Written by Brendan Hickey, Director, Health Solutions at People Corporation, with insight provided by Shannon Darvill, Consultant at Silverberg Group, a People Corporation Company, and a Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey Advisory Board Member.