One in five employees used telehealth in 2021, according to new data from the Integrated Benefits Institute, a health and productivity research nonprofit. The IBI study analyzed data from the 2020 National Health Interview Survey (July to December), and the 2021 Household Pulse Survey (April to October). The data found that major demographic differences exist when it comes to who is using telehealth: For instance, across both years, data showed that men utilized virtual care less than women. Individuals between 18 and 24 years of age were least likely to use virtual care, along with those who have a high school education or less.
What it means for HR leaders
Telehealth and virtual healthcare use surged when the pandemic began as many doctors’ offices and other practitioners didn’t have in-person care available. Virtual care use was highest among workers who were diagnosed with COVID-19 (56.8%) and anxiety and/or depression (54.7%), according to IBI.
Despite strong usage—especially when the pandemic began—virtual care isn’t as high as it could be and waned as the pandemic went on, IBI researchers found. What’s troubling about that is that it’s happening as many employees are still avoiding or delaying in-person care. That means there is a gap in employees receiving care.
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This means employers can stand to do a better job in encouraging workers to take advantage of telehealth options. There are several lessons from large employers who are getting telehealth right, IBI researchers said. For instance, making communications focused, concise and intentional—e.g., refrigerator magnets, postcards with QR codes—to send employees and their families information regarding virtual care options; and expanding virtual care to meet the needs of all pillars of wellbeing—physical, emotional, financial and social—are vital approaches. Collecting and studying data to support healthcare programs like virtual care are more important now than ever, says IBI President Kelly McDevitt.
“Virtual care is here to stay,” she says. “Employers should study their virtual care data closely to assure that their goals are being met. Ask basic questions: Which populations are using it the most/least? Are you filling network inadequacies with virtual options? Are you eliminating financial, geographic or ethnic barriers to care with virtual options? Are members using national vendors (if offered), or their own doctors? Does using virtual care improve leaves or PTO usage? Without firm data to support the strategy on an ongoing basis, there may be lost value on investment.”