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As we saw a rise in telehealth/virtual care usage across the country during the pandemic, IBI delved into researching who was using virtual care, and its effect on employee wellness and productivity. We partnered with UnitedHealthcare to not only support the research but to see how it played out in the claims data.

On Tuesday, May 3, IBI hosted a webinar, “Shining a Spotlight on Virtual Care Use in the Workplace,” which presented our research findings, claims data, and how employers can support telehealth use.

Dr. Nicole Nicksic, Lead Researcher at IBI, presented the demographic differences across virtual care usage in 2020 and 2021. Significant findings included:

  • Men utilized virtual care less than women.
  • Individuals between 18 and 24 years of age were least likely to use virtual care, along with those who have a high school education or less.
  • Virtual care was used most by employees in the northeast and west—with the highest use seen in urban areas, and the lowest use in rural areas across the country.
  • Private sector employees made up the majority of the employees surveyed, however, they used virtual care less than other sectors. Among frontline workers, health care workers used virtual care the most, while food and beverage, and retail workers used it the least.
  • Employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or anxiety and/or depression, utilized virtual care the most.
  • For employees who are missing work due to illness, injury or disability, virtual care use increased with the number of missed workdays.

May Dorris, Associate Director, Center for Advanced Analytics, UnitedHealthcare National Accounts, corroborated with claims data that women were more likely than men to utilize virtual visits, as well as greater usage in urban areas. Other observations included:

  • For behavioral health over two-thirds of visits are virtual and stayed virtual, and this has stabilized at a higher level than medical visits.
  • Members with a virtual provider visit had 45% higher ER utilization and 52% higher urgent care utilization.
  • The most common reasons for virtual visits included respiratory system (29%), genitourinary system (13%), nervous system and sensory organs (10%), and infectious and parasitic diseases (9%).

“What’s important going forward is to start measuring data right now – does the cost of medical care on the whole go down when virtual care utilization goes up?,” said IBI President Kelly McDevitt. “Are we avoiding more costly care when using virtual care in its place?”

Kelly went on to say that looking at how your members are utilizing virtual care is very important. Are your employees utilizing national vendors or traditional providers for virtual care? What was the outcome of those visits and are they using virtual care on an ongoing basis?

Communication to employees about virtual care offerings can be creative, such as refrigerator magnets, postcards with QR codes, to send employees and their families. Employers may want to communicate mental health support very differently from medical support when it comes to virtual care options, Kelly added.

Expanding virtual care into new wellbeing programs will be the next step. However, look at the data for programs implemented already before expanding into new areas. Don’t branch off into more virtual care options until you know how your employees are behaving today, cautioned Kelly.

Overall, it’s important to look at holistic solutions that are increasing attraction and retention of employees, and continue to seek virtual care solutions as a way for your employees to be healthier and happier at work.

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