Every day there are new findings on the novel coronavirus, and it can get challenging for businesses to keep up on the latest news. Even aspects like company healthcare benefits are changing: companies now have to adjust to the new normal by developing new ways for employees to take care of their health without having an in-person office visit. 

As uncertainty continues to rise, feelings of anxiety, panic, and fear can seriously affect the health and wellbeing of your workers. Although sending out check-in emails asking about employees’ well-being is a great start, consider some additional ways to improve the employee experience. Slowly gaining popularity during the pandemic, telemedicine is becoming one of the best options available for remote workers, offering a plethora of advantages regarding healthcare.

HR teams need to be aware that not every worker is going to understand the health benefits offered to them or everything they entail. If your employees don’t understand how to use your benefits, they might reject these services altogether. To avoid this, begin by properly educating your workers on how telemedicine can be useful. Here’s what you need to know about telemedicine and how to encourage remote workers to use this valuable resource in the era of COVID-19.

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine is technologies and services that allow patients and doctors to communicate basic healthcare needs without being in the same room. This health technology has been around since the 1950s and is becoming more popular. Research shows that more than 76% of U.S hospitals consult long distance with a doctor usually via a laptop or smartphone. 

When participating in a telemedicine consultation, the patient submits a request via web portal to speak with a medical professional. The patient typically attends the consultation using video conferencing software, but a simple phone call to a nurse or physician can also be considered telemedicine. The medical professional will ask an array of questions to diagnose and treat the patient.

How is it used?

Now that you have a short explanation of telemedicine to give your employees, let’s highlight what services they can use it for. Depending on the doctor, the services offered can vary. There are also online services available to connect someone with a doctor for the first time if they don’t currently have one. Depending on your company, the cost of these services will also vary. Generally, these are the three most common benefits offered:

1. Medical Concerns

Normally, if someone had a persistent sore throat or a cough, they’d go see a doctor in person, but we aren’t living under normal circumstances. Now, more companies are gravitating toward telemedicine so employees can simply contact their doctor’s office and let them know that they would like to set up a call or virtual appointment with an available doctor. Most of the time, physicians can diagnose people with a few questions and an examination of the problematic area.

2. Prescription Refills

People can easily discuss refilling a prescription or starting a new one during a phone call instead of going to an in-person appointment. Whatever the prescription, your employees can make a quick call to the doctor’s office or check out online telemedicine companies that meet their specific needs. Prescription refills are not only for simple things like allergy medication or hydrocortisone. Your employees can also get medications that they might not consider taking the time to go to the doctor for but need, like hair loss pills to combat thinning hair and feel more confident. These medications can be delivered right to their doorstep without ever having to step foot in a store. There may be some limitations regarding refilling these products depending on insurance or what state they’re in, so make sure your employees understand what’s being offered.

3. Follow-Up Visits

If someone has previously been treated, telemedicine is a great way for their doctor to check-in and see how they are doing. During this time, they can update their physician and express any concerns they may have. From there, the doctor can assist them accordingly. This will help to prevent future health problems and the spread of COVID-19 by encouraging patients to stay home.

3 Ways Telemedicine Benefits Remote Employees

1. Accessibility

While some people have the option of going into the doctor’s office, telemedicine is great for remote employees who are not able to make it to the physical location. Research indicates that location and transportation are two leading obstacles people face when trying to see a physician. Employees with a longer commute to a doctor’s office can avoid the trip for visits that can easily take place over the phone. Additionally, telemedicine benefits don’t change often (but this can also vary by company). Regardless of where they are in the country, your employees can still have access to the company’s telemedicine plan. They can be in one state getting medical advice from their physician who is in a completely different state.

2. Convenience

At some point in life, most people have a doctor that they have built a trusting relationship with over time and would hate to have to leave. The patient-doctor relationship is important to preserve because communication between the patient and doctor can play a role in life or death. With that being said, going remote and being forced to switch doctors can be extremely difficult. Telemedicine now allows people who are newly remote to know that they don’t have to worry about finding another physician immediately when they relocate. It’s easier for long-distance workers to continue seeing the doctor they are most comfortable with and getting the best care possible without having to commute back to their original locations.

3. Safety

Telemedicine is no doubt the safest and most convenient alternative to going to the office to meet a doctor right now. Nurses and hospital staff risk their lives every day when they come in contact with the overwhelming number of people experiencing novel coronavirus symptoms. Whether these patients have COVID-19 or not, they still are experiencing some sort of ailment, putting nurses and hospital staff in jeopardy. Find ways to support healthcare workers and stay away from hospitals as a safety measure that is beneficial to everyone. When going to a hospital or doctor’s office, a person risks the potential of coming into contact with contagious patients and increases their chance of becoming detrimentally sick. Limiting the amount of foot traffic in a doctor’s office creates a safer environment for everyone involved.

How to Get Your Employees to Use Telemedicine

It’s safe to assume that after thoroughly explaining telemedicine to your remote employees that they would all jump at the chance to use it, but this isn’t always the case. Just because telemedicine is an available option doesn’t mean employees will be comfortable taking advantage of it right away. Gently encourage them to use telemedicine in their daily lives by incorporating a rewards and recognition program into your wellness program that will reward them for using telemedicine and helps them feel like their use of telemedicine services is appreciated company-wide.

1. Host a Virtual Launch Party

A launch party is not only a great way to introduce your employees to telemedicine, but a great way to boost their morale. Obviously, hosting a launch party during a global pandemic is going to require a few adjustments. Instead of finding a venue and having food catered, you will have to find other ways to bring the party to your employees virtually. Your HR team can use a video conferencing tool like Google Hangouts to make sure all of your employees can see one another. Then you can have one person play some music to make the environment feel more energized, and don’t forget about drinks! Your employees can fill a glass with their beverage of choice, whether it’s apple juice or something a little stronger. Once the party vibe has been established, celebrate your company’s new offered service and enjoy the conversation.

2. Educate Employees on the Services

Some of your employees will have reservations when it comes to using telemedicine, and that’s to be expected. To alleviate their concerns, it’s important to make sure they have as much information as possible on what’s offered. How expensive the services are and how they differ from regular doctor visits are just a few of the questions your workers may have. Send out a quick survey to the entire company to pinpoint these questions and concerns your employees have about telemedicine. Once you’ve determined that, create a presentation or document to relay the answers accurately to your workers. To make sure you have enough time to thoroughly answer all of the questions that have come up, set up a company-wide meeting where you discuss the ins and outs of telemedicine. You and your HR team can even set up multiple meetings with fewer people to easily answer additional questions and prevent yourself from being overwhelmed.

3. Encourage Recognition Across Your Company

Choose a program that easily allows your remote employees to congratulate one another on their accomplishments. Personalized messages, no matter how short, can make people feel great. A simple acknowledgment that your employees are helping to save lives when seeking medical advice remotely will increase how many people within a team use telemedicine. Making them proud to use telemedicine benefits can influence their willingness to use it again in the future and how many people they encourage to use it as well. Aside from increasing how many people use telemedicine, recognition from management or peer employees is also great for boosting morale, productivity, and engagement.

4. Implement a Rewards System

Take recognition a step further and find a program that allows your employees to send each other reward points for their accomplishments. It’s one thing to hear someone tell you how good of a job you’ve done, but to actually receive rewards for your hard work is an entirely different motivator. Simply sending and receiving reward points for things like scheduling a telemedicine visit or finishing their first long-distance consult can get your employees’ attention. Make sure rewards are distributed in a timely manner, as you don’t want people feeling discouraged if they don’t see their rewards points. Offer rewards that are tailored to your employees so you can make sure it’s something they actually would enjoy. Your efforts won’t matter if your employees are uninterested in them.

5. Introduce Corporate Perks

As an incentive for using telemedicine, consider providing employees with corporate perks tailored to your wellness program. Corporate perks are different from reward points in the sense that while rewards can be offered to employees for individual accomplishments, these discounts are available company-wide and can be redeemed at any time. For example, you can provide a discount to a local health food store as an incentive to encourage employee wellness or discounts at a nearby gym. Make these discounts available after a certain percentage of your employees adopt telemedicine to motivate them to participate in the program.

Where to Go From Here

If you’re contemplating whether or not you should offer telemedicine benefits to your remote employees, the answer depends on your business. This is not a decision that can be made overnight and you will have to take into account a variety of things. To start, ask your employees what their thoughts are on telehealth and gauge their opinions on this topic. 

You can’t force your employees to seek long-distance medical advice, but with the right explanation and the right employee wellness program, your workers will be using telemedicine in no time. It will help to keep people and the others around them healthy. While your everyday person may not be able to go out and find a cure for COVID-19, there are small adjustments everyone can make to help flatten the curve, with telehealth being one of the main ones. Let’s all make an effort to stay healthy and keep others safe by practicing social distancing when we can and starting our journey to a healthy and happy rest of the year.

Please note: telemedicine should not be used if you are experiencing serious health issues that need immediate care.