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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.



Towergate Health & Protection launches open-access GP Hero

Towergate Health & Protection has announced it is launching a new online GP service.

GP Hero enables employees to receive unlimited advice, reassurance and, where appropriate, diagnosis, from a practising doctor remotely from wherever they are in the world. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and will be offered by Towergate Health & Protection to SME, corporate PMI and group risk clients who wish to provide employees and their families with fast access to primary care services.

Health and wellbeing behaviours have changed
The pandemic has resulted in long-term changes in health and wellbeing behaviours. There has been a sea-change in attitudes regarding accessing healthcare remotely with many people now actively preferring this option. The launch of GP Hero is in direct response to this requirement. It allows employers to deliver a whole-of-workforce solution and extended online GP access, which traditionally has only been available to those employees insured on private medical insurance (PMI) or group risk insurance policies. 

Brett Hill, Distribution Director at Towergate Health & Protection, explains, “The benefits of fast, convenient online access to a GP have long been recognised, and the pandemic saw the rapid roll out of online GP services to PMI customers in the spring of 2020. However, not all employers can afford to provide every employee with PMI, so we have partnered with HealthHero to deliver an affordable way for SMEs to extend online GP access beyond their insured workforce at a critical time when NHS GP practices across the country will be occupied with the roll out of the UK’s Covid vaccination programme throughout the course of 2021.”

Wider initiative
The launch is part of a wider initiative to facilitate access to remote clinical services for Towergate Health & Protection’s clients.

To improve access to mental health support for SMEs an employee assistance programme (EAP) was launched last summer offering online video counselling services, and as demand for mental health support has surged during the pandemic online counselling sessions now account for over a third of all sessions provided by the service.

The company also launched an agreement with Ascenti in November to provide SMEs with access to Ascenti’s pioneering high quality remote physiotherapy services for their employees, with preferential rates for Towergate Health & Protection’s clients. For employees insured on a cash plan in particular this helps their benefits go further, providing enhanced value for employers and better outcomes for employees. 

Fine details
The GP Hero service is now officially open for enrolment. The minimum group size is just three employees and the service can also be used from overseas. The GP Hero service is provided by HealthHero (formerly Medical Solutions, a provider with a long-standing track record of providing GP telemedicine services to health insurance customers, over more than 20 years). 

Paul Nattrass, Commercial Director at HealthHero, says, “Employees can speak to our 24/7 Customer Services Team or simply book online, choosing between a phone or video appointment and a male or female GP. There is a translation service, covering over 200 languages, for users for whom English may not be their first language. All our GPs are experienced, practising NHS doctors who have exactly the same qualifications and experience as patients’ own GPs. Private prescriptions can be issued for collection from a pharmacy or delivery to any UK address. If symptoms require further investigation or treatment, the GPs can issue an open private referral letter to enable access to continued treatment. We are delighted to be able to give Towergate Health & Protection’s clients the peace of mind that they can consult with a GP and get expert medical support and advice at any time and from anywhere.” 

Brett Hill concludes, “We are really excited by this new service. It means that companies of all sizes will be able to offer online GP access to all employees. This is a highly valuable and valued employee benefit, which will bring tangible positive support in these unprecedented difficult times.”


Number Of People In The UK Buying Private Medical Insurance For The 1st Time Doubles Since Covid-19

The number of people buying private health insurance for the first time has doubled since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to leading UK protection comparison site ActiveQuote.

Sales of Private Medical Insurance (PMI) to first-time customers were up on average by 100% across November, December and January this year, compared to the amount coming through at the beginning of the pandemic across March, April, and May 2020.

This newfound consumer interest in PMI shows no signs of slowing in 2021 either, with private healthcare sales to first-time buyers up 32% between December and January alone.

Rod Jones, Head of Partnerships at ActiveQuote, said, “We know the tide has been turning for a while when it comes to private healthcare and, with figures like these, it certainly feels like the public has woken up to the benefits of PMI.

“There can be no denying that attitudes towards private healthcare have changed significantly since Covid-19 arrived in the UK, and the statistics continue to show us that consumers are more committed than ever to making sure their needs are taken care of come what may.”

“What’s also encouraging, from an industry and consumer perspective, is that significant rises in the number of first-time buyers investing in private healthcare means more are realising not only the true value of having these policies in place, but just how affordable and accessible a lot of them are too,” Rod added.

“This is a positive development not only when it comes to future markets, therefore, but for customers too, who can expect PMI to be an increasingly affordable option available to ever greater numbers as a direct consequence of this continuing increase in take up.”

As the UK’s leading comparison website and broker of health and protection insurance products, ActiveQuote has been working closely with its partner insurers to help meet increasing demands in the PMI market since the pandemic broke out.

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