Sitting impatiently at the clinic for hours only to see the doctor for 5 brief minutes. Sound familiar?
It’s no secret that our healthcare system is facing tremendous pressures. Many Canadians do not have a family doctor and those that do may not be able to get an appointment when needed. According to a Canada Health Infoway study, only 20% of individuals see their family doctor, 48% attend a congested walk-in clinic with little to no continuity of care, 11% go to the emergency room and experience significant wait times, while 13% choose not to seek care at all leaving their condition untreated.
Poor access to healthcare increases absenteeism and impacts productivity at work
A 5-minute doctor’s appointment can easily take 2-3 hours out of an employee’s work day. On the other hand, if an employee chooses not to seek care to avoid long wait times at the clinic, their condition may deteriorate causing even longer absences from work.
According to data from the Conference Board of Canada, employee absenteeism cost Canadian companies $16.6 billion in 2012. More recently, Statistics Canada found that the average full-time Canadian worker missed 10 days of work last year. This average jumps to 11.8 days per year for Quebec employees.
Telemedecine is quickly emerging as an affordable, easy-to-implement solution with an immediate return on investment for employers of all sizes.
What is telemedicine?
Telemedicine (sometimes referred to as virtual healthcare or telehealth) is easily accessible on a web-enabled computer, tablet or smartphone device, and connects you directly and instantly with health professionals through secure text and video chat, anytime and anywhere.
Remotely, physicians can:
- diagnose and treat many common medical issues
- prescribe medication
- complete laboratory requisitions
- provide specialist referrals
According to telemedicine providers, as much as 70% of visits to clinics or emergency rooms can be replaced by virtual consultations without any impact on the quality of care. Video consultations allow for a partial physical examination given that health professionals see the patient in front of them on a screen. Furthermore, many situations do not require a physical consultation, for example in the case of mental health. For cases where telemedecine may not be appropriate, patients are redirected.
There is typically no limit on the number of virtual consultations and no out-of-pocket costs for consultations with general physicians. The service is fully confidential, as any medical consultation.
Telemedecine is not the same as Info-santé
Info-santé 811 is a telephone hotline that can provide some medical assistance after normal business hours when most clinics are closed. However the wait times can still be long and consultations are provided by nurses who cannot diagnose or prescribe. They help you self-assess and redirect you to the best resource where appropriate. Telemedecine apps connect you directly with physicians through voice, text or video, therefore providing a significantly higher resolution rate.
Benefits for employers
Your employees skip the waiting room, renew prescriptions from their desk, and avoid emergency room visits for minor issues. Since the app is available for all direct family members, employees with young children especially appreciate the convenience and access to care after normal business hours. Employees facing mental health concerns may also be less intimated to access care remotely in the comfort of their home instead of a face-to-face visit in clinic.
Employees benefit from:
- No wait times
- No travel, traffic, or parking
- Access to care 24/7, even after normal business hours
Ultimately, telemedicine results in faster access to care and fewer work absences. It also reduces the stress associated with trying to access care and empowers employees to take charge of their health- and that’s good for business.
Accessing healthcare in remote locations
For businesses with employees located outside of large urban areas, it may be even more difficult for employees to access care, making virtual healthcare a no brainer. For example NASA uses telemedicine to care for astronauts in space. But its applications need not be so extreme. Miners, workers in indigenous communities, employees of manufacturing plants in rural areas can all benefit.
Who are the main telemedicine players in Canada?
While telemedicine is still a burgeoning industry in Canada, many providers already have extensive virtual care offerings.
Dialogue prides itself in being the first, and only telemedicine app that focuses exclusively on employers. Their app is not available directly to consumers and their model includes a series of tools to assist employers.
Maple describes itself as the Uber for doctors, putting physicians into patient’s mobile devices on demand. Their app does away with traditional nurse triage, ensuring that every interaction happens with a license physician.
Akira believes its history as a traditional healthcare provider helps differentiate them from competitors that started off purely as technology companies.
Wello, which coined their name by combining the words “hello” and “wellness” place particular importance on staying well with chronic disease management, mental health support and a library of wellness articles for employees.
With continued interest for virtual healthcare in the Canadian market, the American Teladoc will also be expanding into Canada shortly. Look out for them in some provinces this summer.
How do insurance companies fit in?
Insurers, recognizing the benefits of virtual healthcare on group insurance claims, are also jumping on the band wagon, each launching their own partnerships with telemedicine vendors; and in some instances providing preferred pricing to their clients.
Great-West Life and SSQ Financial have allied with Dialogue, while Akira has an agreement with Desjardins Insurance. Sun Life Financial offers preferred pricing on Maple, Akira, and EQ Care apps purchased by consumers via their Lumino website.
How much does telemedicine cost?
While pricing, and offerings vary among providers, telemedicine remains quite accessible for most employers ranging on average from $6 to $13 per employee per month. Some providers also charge a flat monthly fee or impose a minimum amount.
Vita Assure is committed to helping you modernize your benefit offerings, making them more relevant and impactful in today’s fast-past workplaces.
Need help navigating the different telemedicine options? Touch base with an advisor for a no-obligation consultation.