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The Instrumental Role Of Telemedicine During And After The Pandemic

In this exclusive iPMI Magazine article, Damian Lenihan, Executive Director for Europe at Aetna International, talks about how telemedicine is positively impacting access to high quality healthcare, during a global pandemic.

With record numbers of employees working from home and facing new and evolving health pressures, employers have also begun to embrace telemedicine as a way to roll out effective health and well-being strategies.

Telemedicine is easing the burden of new employee health pressures

A survey we conducted with 4,000 global office workers last September shows just how much workers’ mental health has been impacted by the pandemic. From worrying about juggling work and home-schooling, to concerns over being furloughed (not to mention fears over contracting the virus or caring for those who have), lockdown truly tested our emotional resilience.

With social restrictions limiting access to sports facilities, as well as eliminating the commute, most employees have also been moving and exercising less. Add to this the fact that most hospitals and health care centres have been overwhelmed with Covid-19, and businesses are facing a perfect storm: their employees’ health is under more pressure than ever before, but regular health tests and screenings, and even treatment appointments, have largely been postponed unless crucial.

That is why employer-provided access to virtual consultations and health and well-being support during this time has been so important. It has helped to address a clear gap, giving people the much needed opportunity to speak to their GP or other health care professionals, all from the comfort and safety of their own home.

Virtual health for a new type of workplace

As hybrid and flexible working models become a more permanent fixture of working life, employers need to be mindful of the impact this could have on employee experiences and expectations. Our ongoing research into the views of global employees and HR Directors indicates that 3 in 5 UK HR decision makers recognise that expectations around employer-provided health support have changed dramatically since the beginning of the pandemic. For instance, employees say they now want access to more digital health solutions.

Although not completely new, the provision of health benefits through virtual means has accelerated and employee usage is increasing as well. At Aetna International, for example, we saw a 180% increase in global utilisation of vHealth, our virtual telemedicine service, between April 2019 and April 2020, with some regions more than doubling their usage during this time. More generally, the use of virtual health platforms has increased by 200-300% across the globe, showing the increasing demand for such services.

As many firms announce the implementation of hybrid working models, providing health support for teams through digital means, underpinned by a clear internal communications strategy, will be key to ensuring employees can take care of their health and well-being – no matter where they are. 

Employee appetite for digital health solutions in the workplace

The role technology has played in keeping the world connected over the last year has shown just how easy it is to take care of everyday tasks virtually, whether conducting meetings via Zoom or participating in virtual events.  

Previous research we conducted found that 69% of global workers think access to physical health services through their phone would help them better manage their physical health, whilst over three quarters said the same about convenient access to exercise or health appointment options online. It’s clear that even though our lives have been dominated by technology during the past year, employees view health and well-being services through technology as a positive and are keen to see more of it.

Harnessing digital solutions, including telemedicine, will allow employers to more easily cater to the hybrid workforce, as well as help them tackle the long-lasting mental and physical effects caused by the pandemic. In addition, anonymised employee health data could help companies to adapt their digital health benefits and make them more personalised. In fact, our research found that 80% of people would willingly share their anonymised health data if it would help to improve their health and well-being benefits at work. Of course, employees must also feel reassured that their data is secure and won’t be used for purposes outside their consent.

Building the future of virtual solutions and telemedicine

Although telemedicine has been available for some time, the pandemic has helped to establish it as a practical and convenient health care solution. The increased use of telemedicine has changed the way people think about access to health care, and people are now more likely to expect easy digital access to general health information, e-prescriptions in some cases, as well as convenient appointments and quick advice about condition management, for example.

The benefits of telemedicine go beyond this though, and as its role in our everyday lives increases, so will awareness of the benefits it can bring. For instance, dealing with health issues can be stressful and scary, but services such as Aetna International’s vHealth give patients the opportunity to store and access all health documents in one place, making communications between the patient and health care professionals more streamlined and connected. What’s more, employers with workers based in various locations needn’t worry about a service only benefitting some employees, as many services are offered around the world, and in multiple languages.

Telemedicine will never be able to fully replace traditional health systems (and nor should it) but it will certainly be an essential part of them; increasing their scope and easing the burden on currently overtaxed systems. As we move into the next normal, I’m confident that digital health solutions are here to stay, and will only become more embedded in day-to-day life. Employers will need to ensure these are part and parcel of their health and well-being strategies, to help their employees achieve the best possible health outcomes.


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