COVID-19: Leveraging technology for physical and mental health needs

As the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continues to unfold, the way in which health care is delivered continues to change. It’s more important than ever for employees who need health care support to consider a digital approach.

The value of telehealth and virtual services

While telehealth adoption and use was slower than some expected in the beginning, the current landscape has expanded the need for these services. The use of telehealth services and virtual visits has greatly increased to help employees receive the help they need, while reducing the burden on the system.

From a health care technology point of view, telehealth services can provide an effective and efficient level of care. This approach benefits the employee, employer and provider in a number of ways:

  • By receiving care at home, employees get the same information and support without potentially exposing themselves to COVID-19. They also save travel and waiting room time.
  • The cost to employers may be reduced, as telehealth services typically cost less than an office visit. It also reduces impact on productivity and time away from work.
  • For providers, these services relieve the need for face-to-face tasks since virtual health care can be provided by people all over the country.

Take advantage of digital and virtual resources and services

While there is still a need for doctor’s office and emergency room care, many resources and services are available to your employees from the comfort of their homes:

  • Digital triage services, such as Buoy Health, can help your employees check their symptoms, make sense of their health concerns and guide them to the correct care. This approach is the lowest cost to providers, with the greatest reduction in burden to the system.
  • Virtual doctor visits allow employees to speak with a clinician by phone or video to discuss symptoms, receive a diagnosis and obtain a prescription. Next to digital triage services, virtual doctor visits are the most efficient and effective approach in uncovering and supporting employees’ health care needs.
  • Digital and virtual physical therapy allows providers to help their patients go through physical therapy at home. In some cases the provider sends a monitor to their patient that will tell them if the patient is doing their physical therapy correctly. Using a video service will make it easier for the provider to guide their patient in real time. In other cases, a totally digital solution of instructions, reminders, trackers and educational information can be used.
  • Mental and behavioral health services, like the Employee Assistance Program, allow employees to get support for a range of well-being and family support services. As noted, virtual telemental health visits are being increasingly adopted by both providers and their patients. Other services include apps like Sanvello to help with stress, anxiety and depression, as well as digital therapy visits for stress management, resiliency and sleep.
  • Smoking cessation programs, like Quit For Life, use proven, evidence-based strategies to help employees quit tobacco use. The program features an app with 24/7 urge management support and a one-on-one Quit Coach to help employees create a customized quit plan.

How you can help your workforce

As the health care community strives to make it easier for employees to access the support they need virtually, there’s a lot you can do to help your employees:

  • Communication is critical. Remind your employees of the services available to them. Also, consider expanding services to ensure your workforce has everything they need to support their physical and mental health during this crisis.
  • Supporting your employees will go a long way. Let them know that they aren’t alone in their challenges and that you are there for them and their families.
  • Consider reviewing and modifying your benefits package based on lessons learned from the COVID-19 situation. Changes may include the need for childcare and caregiving benefits and well-being resources, and enhancing mental and behavioral health services.

Visit the Optum COVID-19 site to learn more about the tools available to you and your employees.


About the author

SerxnerSeth - Full shotSeth Serxner, PhD, MPH
Chief Health Officer, Optum

Seth Serxner, a national expert on behavior change, program design and measurement, brings the breadth of his experience in academia, industry and consulting to his role as chief health officer at Optum.

His versatile skill set ensures processes and outcomes that improve health for clients in all markets. His deep knowledge of behavior change, population health and measurement allows him to visualize and deliver on program innovation.

He is a published author with over 25 years of experience in health and productivity management. He holds a master’s in public health and a doctorate from the University of California, where his research focused on health promotion and disease prevention in social ecology.

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