COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way Americans access healthcare.

When the country shut down in March 2020, virtual care became the new standard, as it provided a safe way to access healthcare without stepping foot in a doctor’s office or emergency room. FAIR Health reports that telehealth claims in April 2020 shot up more that 8,000% over the prior year – and as much as 26,000% in some parts of the U.S. Popularity soared, too:

A McKinsey & Company survey showed 76% of respondents were likely to use telehealth going forward, and 74% were highly satisfied.

Pre-pandemic, the platform was most often used for urgent care – treatment of colds, flu, minor injuries and such – but it quickly became clear that telehealth was more than a stop-gap solution. Now, telehealth has expanded its scope dramatically and proven its value and efficacy across the healthcare continuum.

This evolution creates many new opportunities for businesses to support their workforces – well beyond urgent care.

Virtual Care is Preferred

Working from home has become the new norm – and employees are enjoying an entirely new level of flexibility and freedom in their work life. They want the same thing from their healthcare. A Kyruus survey revealed that 75% of patients expect virtual care to be a standard part of their care moving forward – and 50% of them would switch providers to have regular access to virtual care.

Even before the pandemic, employers knew full well that people were dissatisfied with traditional healthcare. A report from United HealthCare Services shows that benefits managers were seeking new ways to meet the needs of today’s employees with benefits plans that offered more convenience, choice, personalization and simplicity – long before COVID-19 hit the scene.

The pandemic has made simple, flexible healthcare access and delivery an even bigger priority for consumers – and employers are right there with them. In fact, the Business Group on Health’s 2021 Large Employers’ Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey showed exponential growth in virtual care across the healthcare continuum.

New Telehealth Options for Businesses

With health insurance premiums rising every year, businesses continually grapple with striking the right balance between competitive benefits and the bottom line. Telehealth can help. This is particularly true in two important areas where traditional benefits plans fall short: behavioral health and primary care.

Behavioral Health:

It’s well-reported that COVID-19 has magnified America’s mental health crisis, but it’s no easier to access care now than it was before the pandemic. A chronic shortfall of providers, extremely narrow networks, lengthy wait times and prohibitively high out-of-pocket costs create major barriers to care. Meanwhile, mental health conditions take a real and costly toll on businesses. A report from Tufts Medical Center and One Mind at Work reveals that depression alone may account for a whopping $44 billion in lost productivity.

Employers are now turning to teletherapy and telepsychiatry to address the mental health needs of their staff. Not only does the virtual model overcome the barriers of traditional care, but data from Psychological Services indicates it’s just as effective as in-person care in treating common issues like depression and anxiety – issues that diminish employee productivity and often affect physical health.

Primary Care:

Primary care is the cornerstone of the U.S. healthcare system, but a looming shortage of providers make it difficult for people to access the care they need – even with the best benefits plan.

According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, the nation could be short 55,200 primary care physicians by 2032 – and the problem is only getting worse. It’s a real issue nationwide because primary care is directly tied to health status and spending. Research from the Oregon Health Authority suggests that every $1 invested in primary care yields $13 in savings in downstream costs.

Primary care is particularly important when it comes to managing costly chronic conditions. This is important, as the CDC reports that chronic diseases are the biggest healthcare cost drivers for businesses, accounting for 90% of the nation’s health spending.

Businesses can address these and other issues with virtual primary care. The model removes barriers created by the provider shortage, improves access and meets employees’ expectations for convenience, safety and flexibility. And when it comes to costs, the virtual model has already shown its value: Even prior to COVID-19, telehealth use among chronic populations improved costs by 2-3%.Future cost savings are likely more significant as telehealth reinforces its place as the new normal.

Telehealth Solves Business Problems

Increasing virtual healthcare options benefits both businesses and employees.

In a time when U.S. healthcare costs are skyrocketing, telehealth enables employers to offer high-value, lower-cost health services. And when it comes to behavioral health and primary care, it also removes obstacles to important care that will improve employee health and well-being – now and in the future.

For employees, it means access to the care they want and need – when and how they need it.

All signs indicate the future of healthcare is virtual.

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