In this exclusive iPMI Magazine interview, Christopher Knight, CEO, iPMI Magazine, met with Janette Hiscock, CEO of Global Solutions Europe, UnitedHealthcare Global. They discussed in detail the COVID-19 global pandemic and how UnitedHealthcare Global has managed the public healthcare crisis, internally and externally.
COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the healthcare industry. How has your organisation managed?
As a leading global healthcare company, we have been impacted like everyone else. We’ve been able to help support our employees, our customers, and communities around the world to aid the global fight against this disease.
Since the outbreak, we’ve had to work quickly to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to continue treating patients and supporting our members. In the U.S., UnitedHealth Group has worked to develop accurate tests which aren’t as invasive as those which have been used more widely. These tests were made available to patients with a doctor’s order at hospitals, clinics and testing facilities across the U.S. We’ve also completed a *study with the Yale School of Medicine that suggests older COVID-19 patients with hypertension, who were taking angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, may have a lower risk of COVID-19 hospitalisation. A clinical trial will follow as a next step.1 The study is still under peer review.2
At UnitedHealthcare Global specifically, we have waived member cost sharing, including copayments and deductibles, for COVID-19 diagnostic testing provided this is medically necessary and is carried out at an approved location and in accordance with applicable governmental or public health advice.
This was made available on top of existing access to Virtual Visits, our telehealth solution, our Optum Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) and our unique health management programme. All these features continue to be a source of significant support for our members during this unprecedented time..
More widely, we looked to help other businesses in need across the world. For example, in the UK, our Medical Services team has been globally supplying vital PPE to protect healthcare workers across other essential businesses around the world.
Not only have we supported the scientific and clinical aspect of COVID-19 but since April we’ve committed over $60 million, via the UnitedHealth Foundation, to support homelessness, food insecurities and the health and safety of the frontline workforce. This funding has been used across the U.S. and other regions including, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, India, Ireland, Peru, the Philippines and Portugal. It’s been a real privilege to be part of an organisation working actively to address the virus and its effects and serve the needs of our members and customers. We are fortunate that as a global organisation we’re skilled at working seamlessly across countries, time zones and home offices. As the pandemic evolves, I’m confident that we’ll continue to adapt and support our customers effectively, with a focus on compassion, relationships and performance.
How has your role changed during the pandemic and what are your priorities for your own people?
This year has been challenging in so many ways, both personal and professional. However, it has shown me the importance of understanding our markets and the people we serve. We must offer comprehensive, yet affordable solutions to meet their changing needs. I’ve been working closely with my team to navigate our response to the changing healthcare landscape, and I am confident we have delivered a high standard of support and care throughout this time.
A crucial aspect of my role this year has been to find the best route to minimise the impact of the pandemic on the business, both in terms of our continued growth and, more importantly, on our employees. The safety and wellbeing of our employees is my absolute priority and I have been in close communication with all our teams to ensure we support each other. We’ve also made it a top priority to reinforce the importance of taking annual leave, using the EAP and supporting flexible working. We commissioned a 12 Steps to Personal Resilience programme for all our European-based teams and encouraged them to adopt the practical hints and tips on a weekly basis.
I am very proud to lead our team in Europe and whilst I have reverted to working at home full time, this has been the only real change for me in my role: We have maintained our strong engagement with our brokers and partners, supported our clients and their members at every step, and have ensured the health, safety and wellbeing of our people are protected at all times.
The pandemic has raised lots of questions about the world of work. How do you imagine the future of the workplace?
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, I would imagine that only a small portion of the population had experienced working from home. Some companies may have previously doubted the efficiency and productivity of working from home, preferring to keep their workforce in the office. Personally, I’ve been so impressed by the professionalism and productivity of my colleagues continuing to go above and beyond during this crisis, whilst working from home. Despite the upheaval of this year, we have remained collaborative across the organization, working with our colleagues around the globe.
It is likely that working from home will continue to be an ever-present feature of our working life for the foreseeable future. Homeworking is a new reality for all of us. This may be individual employee preference or simply continuing to ensure social/physical distancing. Whatever the reason, organisations will need to be able to foster a sense of community despite the increased physical distance between their staff. Leaders will need to trust their people and empower them to manage their working day in a way that suits them. This can be a difficult pivot to make as a leader, but I encourage any leader to make this transition sooner rather than later. It takes time to build new working patterns and nurture trust and self-management, but in my opinion, it is worth the investment.
What can organisations do to support employees working from home for long periods, and manage the eventual return to the office?
Boosting and maintaining morale will be critical for employee wellbeing during this extended period of working from home. Never has it been so important to have that virtual coffee with a colleague and to provide virtual events such as quizzes or team activities. In addition, employees should be encouraged to frame their day as if they were in the office and work within their agreed working hours. Although the traditional 9-5 ‘clock in clock out’ approach has been turned on its head, it’s key that employees maintain a balance and don’t fall into the trap of always being available. And yes, I need to take my own advice!
I encourage all employees to take frequent breaks for their physical and mental wellbeing. This is especially important as the days get shorter and its harder to get outside in the evening. Employees should also be encouraged to block an hour in their diary each day to ensure they are taking a lunch break, which will only serve to benefit their productivity for the remainder of the day.
Depending on where you are in the world and how the pandemic changes, some companies have already started to head back to the office. Employers have a duty of care to make sure that workers feel safe. There are various ways to create a safe, clean, socially distanced environment, such as visible signs and instructions, one-way systems, and plenty of handwashing stations. Ensuring staff are aware of the measures in place to protect their wellbeing is a critical step in implementing social distancing and creating a safe working environment. Communication is key.
To help navigate our customers through these unfamiliar times, we’ve developed a new product, our ‘Return to Workplace Screening Tool.’ This is an online health screening service for clients to monitor the health and wellness of their global workforce. Using a simple online pre-deployment medical screening questionnaire, we can identify responses which may require further intervention and alert HR teams to decide whether further action is required. It has been designed to highlight COVID-19 exposure and any changes in their employees’ health and wellbeing that may have developed since last in their workplace.
We’re also pleased to offer an extension to our Global Medical Arrangement (GMA) service by now facilitating COVID-19 testing across our network of providers. All testing is conducted at vetted and approved facilities by certified and accredited healthcare professionals either through a nasal/throat swab or an antibody test. Our offering is unique in that it is managed in-house, creating a continuum of care for all our members.
Have you managed to keep building your business despite the challenges of COVID-19?
Despite the challenges we have faced from COVID-19, we’re still committed to growing our team. In April we added to our senior leadership team with the appointment of John Kaye as Market Development Director for the EMEA region. John’s hire further strengthens our commitment to this market, with his extensive experience in the international healthcare industry. We have also had new hires in sales support, policy enrolment and client management, all signs of an ever-growing business.
Looking ahead to 2021, we are very optimistic about UnitedHealthcare Global’s continued evolution across the European market. Despite the continued challenges from COVID-19, I feel positive about what lies ahead. We have exciting new plans lined up, including entering the Netherlands market, and I know that we have the people and resources to deal with whatever challenges COVID-19 has in store for us.