Due to COVID-19, concerns about the safety of visiting a doctor has been on the minds of many people this past year, resulting in delayed care. How does this affect an employee population? And how can an employer help? Read below to find out.
According to a recent study, which looked at healthcare utilization and deferred care during the COVID-19 pandemic shut down for individuals with employer-based insurance, researchers found that overall healthcare utilization by covered employees declined 23 percent in March 2020, further declining by 52 percent in April 2020. The study also found large reductions of nearly 70 percent in preventive care for top chronic health conditions in the U.S., such as colonoscopies and mammograms, as well as a 50 percent decrease in testing for hemoglobin levels.
Another study found a 25 percent reduction in outpatient services, with an associated increase in number of telemedicine encounters. Evidence of the potential harms from the reduction in face-to-face care has included a steep drop in the delivery of overall preventive care, including reductions of 90 percent or more in screenings for breast, colon, and cervical cancers.
Evidence from studies like these is alarming – especially for employers. Chronic diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, are the leading cause of death and disability in the U.S. Because employers supervise large and diverse workforces – workforces that consist of employees that have likely delayed care during the shutdown – these studies highlight the need for employers to play a role in promoting the wellbeing of their employees by ensuring they get the critical care they need –especially the most vulnerable employees.
As COVID-19 restrictions begin to be lifted, it will be critical that employers help support employees with the information they need on how to make use of their healthcare benefits.
The Solution: What Employers Can Do
Here are some things employers can do to help:
Provide Support. Meeting employees where they are, and when and how they need support is the key to success. Make benefits easily accessible through telephone, online and a mobile app. With today’s complicated healthcare system, keeping access simple in this way enables an employee to utilize their options more often. It also helps in avoiding confusion, particularly the type of confusion that can come with interpreting a medical bill or finding information about a health-related condition, such as COVID-19.
Know Your Employees. Identifying vulnerable populations at risk in your workforce is another key to success. Research shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing health disparities among racial/ethnic minority, low-income, and rural populations. With proper outreach, employers can provide employees from these vulnerable populations with timely information and reminders about their available healthcare benefits, helpful resources, and updates about COVID-related guidelines.
Information is Key. Ensuring employees automatically receive email reminders to schedule appointments and receive accessible information on how to manage their health is another helpful thing that can be done. Also, providing a range of resources for support is vital. Some of those resources may include: hosting free digital trainings and seminars aimed at increasing employee expertise and knowledge in areas such as productivity and building relationships; offering access to confidential mental health care and/or other tools to stay healthy, such as meditation; providing a forum for employees to share resources.
Making health a number one priority is a win/win for both employers and employees – especially intimes of crisis. With the right support, everyone achieves a healthier wellbeing and, collectively, the workforce can build a stronger, healthier culture.