Is Coronavirus a Tipping Point for Digital Health Care on Demand?

As the coronavirus crisis affects our societies and organisations - prompting critical decisions about business shut-downs, the cancellation of public and corporate events, working from home and greater support for employees - a very practical question arises. Could this be the tipping point for digital health care, especially for such recent innovations as telehealth, which allows us to consult directly with health care providers via computer or mobile device?

With social distancing and shelter-in-place now all too familiar concepts, telehealth offerings could well be effective tools in managing the impact of the virus. They can aid in preventing infected patients and people with other health issues from congregating and possibly contracting or passing on the virus.

Significantly, telehealth has never been more widely available, if underutilised. Recent findings from the National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans show that while telehealth is an offering among employers, utilisation rates remain low, growing slowly from 8% in 2018 to 9% in 2019.

That is very likely to change, now that the covid-19 pandemic is a primary focus of societal and business concern. Importantly, telemedicine might be invaluable for behavioural health — especially if people are quarantined for many weeks and anxiety and depression mount.

Horizons of Digital Health

40% of employers believe that sponsoring or promoting digital health solutions will aid in employee retention, while one-quarter of workers say they are more likely to remain with an employer who offers digital solutions. The 36% of employees who say it makes no difference may well change their tune as the coronavirus era affects working life.

However, the horizons of digital health include clouds of complexity that can’t be overlooked. The Health on Demand research shows that workers are looking for improved access to high-quality health care that is personal, convenient, affordable and secure - but they recognise the potential downsides. They have concerns about risks associated with digital health care and AI, especially data protection and privacy.

A Pro-Health Culture

Overall, there is high demand for a pro-health culture. Investments in digital health tools can help demonstrate that employers value health and well-being. This dovetails with the interests of workers, many of whom want their company to create healthy environments.

In addition, employers recognise that there are barriers to health that are tough to get around, like affordable housing and transportation. Virtual solutions that support self-care or provide easy access to counselling have the potential to address these social determinants.

From this, it’s clear that digital health cannot be an end in itself. A pro-health environment encompasses a range of options, but it is fair to say that digital health and well-being solutions will be of increasing importance in retaining, engaging and energizing workers and will have a clear role in facilitating personalised health care. When technology - designed around the end user - connects people to better care than they could get otherwise, that is the sweet spot of digital health.

The Round Up

Ultimately, a balance of care is required, and digital health care is not the only answer. Health care providers can talk, text, chat, look at pictures of rashes and even listen to heartbeats virtually, but they can’t inject a vaccine - or hold a hand - over WiFi. The coronavirus crisis may spark a new era for digital health care, yet it is important for business leaders to look beyond the moment at an empowered future of better health on demand.




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