We’ve all taken considerable precautions to avoid COVID-19. We pushed pause on life, traded face-to-face conversations for Zoom meetings, and even spent birthdays and holidays without close friends and family. These collective sacrifices helped to control the virus spread, but unfortunately led to unintended consequences with employee health and wellness, including a drop in preventive healthcare visits and a rise in medical conditions and unhealthy lifestyles.

In fact, according to an American Psychological Association survey, 61% of respondents reported undesired weight changes, 67% reported negative sleeping changes, 48% reported increased stress levels, and nearly half canceled or delayed healthcare services since the start of the pandemic. Compounding the situation, alcoholic beverage sales increased 34% between April and June of 2020, while tobacco sales increased 13%, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Considering these stats, along with other complicating factors, such as financial hardships, stress and anxiety, spotlights the need for quality employee healthcare and wellness services. For many healthcare providers, the focus becomes re-engaging patients on their terms.

Re-engaging Employees Through High-Quality Healthcare

“We said from the very beginning that COVID doesn’t care about diabetes, or cancer, or depression,” says Jeff Wells, MD, CEO and Co-founder of Marathon Health, a modern healthcare company that specializes in delivering advanced primary care for employers through its Network, onsite and virtual health centers. “Our care teams know our members personally and we felt an enormous responsibility to promote safe access and maintain a continuity of care, especially for those with high risk conditions, throughout the pandemic.”

Wells says some healthcare providers saw their patient engagement fall 60% or more during the pandemic. “We were down, but not significantly — a little less than 17%,” he says. “The reason we did better includes proactively connecting with members when they didn’t think to reach out to us.”

“In one week alone in April, our care team connected with 30,000 members to check in, see how they were doing, and remind them we were here to take care of them” says Amy Lefevre, Senior Director of Member Engagement at Marathon Health. “Members told us they were afraid to get healthcare and that their stress levels were higher. They were blown away by the personal call they received and many chose to come in as a result,” says Lefevre, who added that the outreach campaign also had a big impact on the providers themselves.

As vaccination rates increase and the country starts to move about, Marathon Health is seeing an increase in demand for its service among employers and members, including a huge appetite for virtual visits, which are here to stay. “COVID accelerated the consumer’s comfort level with virtual doctor visits by 10 years,” says Wells. “It’s a great tool for us to continue to improve the patient experience and decrease barriers when a physical visit isn’t necessary, but we do not believe that virtual alone is adequate. To truly impact overall health outcomes, it has to complement in-person access to primary care.”

Personalizing the Experience to Improve Employee Health

Personalizing healthcare goes beyond offering in-person or virtual visits. Marathon Health, which offers advanced primary care, behavioral health services, lab and pharmacy services, and care navigation, through its network of employer-sponsored Marathon Health Network health centers, favors an individualized approach to health and well-being over a one-size-fits-all solution.

“We’re approaching health in a sophisticated, personalized manner,” Wells says, adding that Marathon Health uses data to drive patient engagement and outreach. “In a secure way, we look at all of the data on a patient’s health conditions, identify risks, and find opportunities to engage and educate the patient.”

For example, using a sophisticated algorithm, Marathon Health can identify members who are overdue for a mammogram, patients with uncontrolled diabetes, and even patients who take too many prescribed medications.“There are a lot of opportunities to provide health coaching,” Wells says. “We can automate personalized digital campaigns and do 1:1 outreach on the clinical side, often by simply communicating, ‘We’d like to get you back in and help you with that.’”

Marathon Health proactively helps your employees understand their available benefits and services, while working with employers to incentivize their teams who prioritize care. “We increased investment and our focus on member engagement to create awareness and support incentive programs that reward and drive healthier behaviors,” Lefevre explains.

Lefevre says many patients skipped preventive exams over the last year, and Marathon Health encourages its providers to make contact to get patients back on track. “People are realizing it’s been a year, and the situation around the pandemic isn’t necessarily changing soon, so they’re starting to think more about their health and personal goals,” Lefevre says. “We work with patients to choose their health goals, while doing everything we can to support them. Behind these numbers are people, a parent, a friend, and a sibling. It’s an honor to spend time with them working to improve their health and well-being.”

Norm Lendway admits he hadn’t seen a doctor in years, but was reminded that his employer offered healthcare when Family Nurse Practitioner Chris-Ann Lauria at Marathon Health visited his work. “I was skeptical, but after their second visit to my department, I took her advice. I completed a physical exam and underwent lab testing,” says Lendway, who’s thankful he also got tested for colon, prostate and lung cancer. “I learned I had prostate cancer. I’m thankful they caught it early.”

Lendway needed a pre-operative physical and a COVID-19 test before his prostate surgery, which he was able to complete at the Marathon Health Center. “Fortunately, I haven’t experienced any symptoms since my surgery. I also quit smoking. I still have a long road ahead of me for recovery, but I’m confident I can stay on top of it.”

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