The rise of COVID-19 disrupted just about every aspect of our daily lives, but it also helped us discover a few benefits as we learned to navigate new waters. From endless Zoom meetings to remote learning and even virtual healthcare appointments, technology allowed us to carry on with many activities we once thought required in-person interaction. 

When done well, virtual healthcare visits provides several benefits for your employees, most notably by expanding access to care for working professionals who may not be able to step away from the work site, whether working remotely at home or in person. 

“It’s a convenience factor for a lot of working parents,” says Michelle Woodruff, Senior Director of Virtual Care Operations at Marathon Health. “If you’re in a manufacturing setting and you need your A1c checked, instead of having to drive into town to go see your physician, you can schedule a virtual healthcare visit to review the same data on a laptop or mobile device.”

A virtual healthcare solution also connects remote employees who normally wouldn’t utilize an onsite or network health center with advanced primary care and wellness services.

“Virtual primary care allows an employer to offer the same level of care to all of their employees,” says Michael Gonzales, Executive Vice President of Growth and Strategy at Marathon Health. “It allows for the employer to not only drive down cost and impact the total cost of care, but also improve the patient experience and the clinical outcomes for all employees.”

The pandemic accelerated the influx of employer-sponsored virtual care offerings, and there’s no shortage of available options. If you’re scouting an employee virtual care solution, consider the following aspects of best-in-class virtual care offerings.

Choose a Relationship-Driven Virtual Healthcare Team Model

Because many virtual healthcare solutions favor a single-serve, transaction-based model with a limited scope of services, the experience can feel fragmented and impersonal.

“It shouldn’t feel like Uber for docs, where you’re going to log on one day and see one provider, and then the next time you see whoever’s on call,” Gonzales says.

To truly improve employee health, you need to allow providers to spend quality time with each patient, so they can build deep relationships, determine the causes of their health concerns and collaborate on a care plan moving forward. Of course, this becomes nearly impossible if a patient sees a new provider each visit.

“You want dedicated physicians to create that relationship. But to really foster that continuity of care, you need a multi-disciplinary, dedicated care team consisting of a concierge care coordinator, a registered nurse health coach, a behavioral health counselor, and an engagement specialist,” Gonzales says. “The collaboration of this core group is what’s really going to impact a member’s long-term health needs.”

Virtual Healthcare Should Include Care Coordination and Employee Advocacy

From navigating a new medication to selecting a specialist, healthcare spurs confusion and uncertainty for many employees. Gonzales says you should work with a virtual healthcare partner that embeds a care coordinator, or concierge, into the patient care team to serve as a patient champion. 

“Patients need an advocate,” he says. “They want someone they can reach out to that they trust and can help guide them in their healthcare journey. If they have questions about their benefits, or questions about a referral — about anything, they can reach out to their care coordinator. It takes the experience from transactional to personal.”

He says concierge care coordinators can serve as the patient’s problem-solver, navigator and trusted advisor. They can also mine patient data to proactively connect employees with needed services, such as chronic condition management, health coaching, specialty care, or behavioral health services. 

“So many times, we see patients get diagnosed with a condition and they’re given a prescription and told, ‘Hey, go fill this,’” Woodruff adds. “And then what happens if that patient doesn’t know anything about that medication? The concierge coordinator steps in to provide the educational component, to discuss the importance of taking the medication and go over potential side effects.”

Remote Monitoring for Chronic Conditions

Millions of employees live with chronic conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol. And while it may seem like a virtual healthcare visit could negatively impact condition management, some virtual healthcare providers now send Bluetooth-enabled technology directly to the employee’s home to provide real-time remote monitoring.

“They’ll mail you a Bluetooth glucometer, a blood pressure cuff and a digital scale that automatically loads data into the Marathon Health system,” Gonzales says. “Now we’re telling the patient, ‘I need you to monitor your blood pressure, but you don’t have to write it down in a log every day. In fact, you’re just going to take your blood pressure as normal and we’ll see the results. If something bad happens, we’ll see and be there to take care of you.”

Gonzales says remote monitoring doesn’t just make it easier for employees to report accurate and timely data, it helps the care team provide the right medication at the right dosage and provides the ability to see results in a more real time way. For physicians working on a patient’s hypertension, they might get four or five readings per year. Remote patient monitoring allows clinicians to gather hundreds, if not thousands, of readings per year.

“The concierge coordinator will set up an appointment with the employee to walk through these devices,” Woodruff says. “They can answer questions like, ‘How do I take my blood pressure properly or how do I do a finger stick?’”

Personalized Outreach and Engagement Necessary for Virtual Care

To truly reap the health and financial benefits of an employer-sponsored primary care solution — regardless if virtual or in-person — you need to ensure regular engagement with patients and clinic services. It not only requires proactively communicating available services, but targeting the right services to the right employee groups at the right time. 

“The key is to align the interventions and services with the level of patient need,” Gonzales says. “You want to keep the chronic population out of the hospital, so you want to get them on remote patient monitoring devices, connect them with behavioral health counselors, and start them on chronic condition management programs. 

“Whereas, the somewhat at-risk population—maybe they don’t have a primary care physician — you’ll want to ensure they don’t develop chronic conditions.  It’s important to get them in a primary care program, starting with an annual assessment including a health risk assessment, biometric labs, and a comprehensive health review with a provider. For the healthy employees, you want to keep them healthy. It’s important to make them aware they have access to virtual care 24/7 so they stay out of the ER or urgent care center.”

Gonzales suggests targeting employee cohorts with traditional marketing channels, but also recommends personalizing outreach to inform employees about available services and benefits. Your virtual care provider should track deidentified patient data that can inform patient outreach and engagement.

Going Beyond Convenience

Remember, traditional virtual healthcare is often limited to addressing only one of your challenges – convenience. But a comprehensive virtual healthcare model expands care, taking a more holistic approach to solving your biggest healthcare concerns while controlling costs.

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