#MercerChats rewind: embracing virtual healthcare and a new benefits landscape

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Each month, Mercer brings together in-house experts, employee advocates and external thought leaders for an online discussion of the most pressing issues.. The program is called #MercerChats and takes place entirely on Twitter, where individuals around the world engage with Mercer’s intellectual capital and other leading thought leadership to share insights and discuss the best solutions to help organizations thrive. Below is a summary of our first US-based tweet chat, when we discussed how the Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the digital medicine and benefits revolution.

Is it time yet? That’s what physicians, hospital systems, healthcare professionals, and HR leaders across the US are asking themselves. Because after years (or has it been decades?) of bold proclamations and false starts, we may have finally reached the long-awaited next stage of modern healthcare: the era of telemedicine.

Frankly, no one can be blamed for rolling their eyes at the suggestion that telehealth has finally “arrived,” but there is reason to believe that the tide may have finally turned. For one, the steady march of technology has finally reached the point where at-home and remote consultations can feel like normal, in-person visits. As consumers, our expectations and comfort with video calls has evolved, and with it our expectation for on-demand service and real-time support. When you pair this change with the maturation of cybersecurity and a global pandemic that has much of the US quarantined at home, you arrive at this particular moment when a great leap forward in telemedicine feels very real.

So if we really are at an inflection point for US healthcare, how can consumers and HR professionals prepare? In a healthcare system as complex and byzantine as ours, a revolutionary change like the adoption of telemedicine could have profound and unforeseen impacts, affecting seemingly disparate benefits like healthcare, paid-time off, employee engagement, and more. That is, if the revolution every really comes.

To better understand what lies ahead for health professionals and the rise of telemedicine, we gathered a panel of Mercer experts and employee advocates, along with external industry thought leaders, to discuss the changing benefits landscape in the US. Below are some highlights and key takeaways from our discussion, featuring real quotes and insights from our participants. 

Virtual medicine is more than remote medicine 

Virtual healthcare encompasses so much more than remote appointments and dial-up consultations. When we look at the future trajectory of healthcare, we’re looking at a top-down, inside-out transformation of how we allocate and engage with care. If anything, the proliferation of video calls with doctors is just the beginning of more sweeping changes, as it demonstrates that the conventional channels for distributing healthcare are not our only options. This is something that Dr. Andrew Watson hit on during our discussion when he pointed out that the biggest takeaway from the expansion of telemedicine was just how easy it was. Meanwhile, Tracy Watts spoke to the transformative impact of virtual healthcare on both costs and outcomes.

If we’re to embrace the full impact of virtual medicine, we need to embrace everything that comes with it. This means a complete reimaging of both how we seek and receive care, as well as a new reckoning with the novel and unforeseen barriers to care in this new landscape. Dr. Ritu Thamman spoke to these challenges during our chat, noting that medical professionals and HR leaders must redesign a healthcare experience for a digital age that works for all patients across the country. 

 

Healthcare isn’t the only thing changing

If comprehensive change to healthcare is coming, buckle up for change elsewhere, too. That’s because the way employers and HR administrate, assign, and manage benefits is certain to evolve to accommodate the new shape of healthcare. For example, consider Lisa Lint’s thought experiment on how remote care will cut down on time away from the office, or think about how access to counseling and mental health resources can contribute to greater presenteeism. In a world where we recognize the connection between wellbeing and engagement, how could employers possibly not adjust their other talent management programs in response to a dramatic change like the widespread adoption of remote medicine?  As Donna Lencki points out, this is something that can help them save them money and better meet employee expectations, making it a real win-win. 

 

This time, will it stick?

When it comes down to it, this is the only question that really matters – otherwise this is all just a futurist’s fever dream. So what’s the answer? If you ask Tamara McCleary, the revolution has already happened. Across the country, we’ve seen a broad-scale roll-out of in-home consultations for COVID-19, and we’re beginning to see a real renaissance of at-home therapy solutions through video chats and guided meditations. Add to this a boom in online prescription drug services, and you can credibly say that we’re already living in a new digital health world.

But no one’s saying that we’ve reached the end of the road. If we’re going to truly reinvent the healthcare experience, there are dozens of structural, legislative, and commercial changes that will need to come about to break down existing barriers and build up new ones to protect and serve both patients and providers. John Nosta was right to point out that some may see this process as painful, but to quote Tracy Watts, Senior Partner and National Leader for U.S. Health Policy at Mercer in a recent article on Positioning Virtual Care to Transform Health Benefits, as “the pandemic has created immense public health challenges, it has also revealed significant opportunity for employers to transform the role of virtual care and make it central to future benefit strategies”.

I’m ready for the future of healthcare. Are you?

Danielle Guzman
by Danielle Guzman

Global Head of Social Media