By Pension and Benefits Editorial Staff
Employee use of virtual health care has surged during the pandemic, with most employees giving the level of care high marks, according to a recent survey from Willis Towers Watson. The survey of nearly 5,000 U.S. employees also found that nearly half of respondents have deferred medical care since the start of the pandemic, primarily over COVID-19 and money concerns.
Almost half of respondents (47 percent) have used virtual care services this year—almost three times more than last year (17 percent). Employees also gave virtual care high marks compared with face-to-face consultations, with 79 percent regarding virtual care as equally as good, and 25 percent rating it better. Eight in 10 employees (78 percent) would consider using virtual care in the future.
“Virtual care turned out to be just what the doctor ordered during the pandemic,” said Julie Stone, managing director of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson. “Employers were quick to expand and educate employees on how to access virtual care, and employees—especially those who were hesitant to access traditional medical care—took advantage of it. While most employees used virtual care for regular screenings and checkups, a significant number were able to utilize it for diagnosis and treatment of a new illness, chronic conditions and importantly, mental health services.”
Other key findings from the 2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey include:
- 44 percent have deferred medical care during the pandemic with 30 percent either cancelling or postponing a treatment or appointment; and a quarter of employees (25 percent) said their medical provider has cancelled or postponed a treatment or appointment.
- More than six in 10 respondents (61 percent) cited worries over COVID-19 for deferring care, while 42 percent cited money concerns.
- Nearly three in 10 employees (29 percent) who have deferred care said their health suffered as a result of cancelling an appointment or treatment, while 40 percent expect their health will suffer.
- One in four employees (26 percent) said they will increase their health care use when the pandemic ends. Over half (53 percent) with a chronic condition who deferred care expect to significantly increase their use of health care services when the pandemic ends.
- One in three employees have used virtual care for regular screening and checkups. One in five have used virtual care for mental health care or treatment for a new illness.
- Virtual care has opened additional pathways for employees to access care, especially for low-income employees, who are more than 40 percent more likely to say they got the care they needed when using virtual care.
Relatively few employees (15 percent) reported their physical health had declined due to the pandemic. Nearly a quarter of employees (22 percent) said their physical health had improved, while 63 percent indicated no change. However, the numbers are worse for mental/emotional health: 29 percent said their mental/emotional health had worsened, 53 percent indicated there was no change, and 18 percent reported an improvement.
Additionally, more respondents reported improvements than declines in their lifestyle habits (26 percent vs. 23 percent) and work/life balance (27 percent vs. 21 percent); however, 42 percent said their social connections had worsened.
“One of the biggest challenges employers face is how to support employees’ mental health and emotional wellbeing needs. This is especially true for employees who work from home and feel disconnected,” said Regina Ihrke, senior director and wellbeing leader at Willis Towers Watson. “While it’s encouraging that many employees appear to be managing the pandemic well from a physical and lifestyle perspective, it is imperative for employers to closely gauge and take action to improve the wellbeing of their workforce. Those that do so will be best positioned to help employees thrive both now and when the pandemic passes.”
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