The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that chronic diseases cost the Canadian economy $190 billion annually in lost productivity and healthcare costs, and that number is increasing every year. Employers must be proactive with their employees’ health and provide the resources necessary for improved quality of life. Utilizing telehealth for chronic disease management in workplace wellness and employee assistance programs will save employers billions and improve the health of millions of Canadians.
The 2019 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey reported that 54% of employees with a health benefits plan are living with at least one chronic disease, whereas plan sponsors estimated it to be around 39%. The top five chronic diseases reported in the survey were mental illness, hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis and diabetes, respectively. In fact, Dr. Jan Hux, President and CEO of Diabetes Canada, described type II diabetes in Canada as reaching “epidemic levels”. Additionally, the Canadian Mental Health Association reports that by age 40, about 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness. This presents a heavy economic burden for employers. Outside of lost productivity and indirect costs, health benefits spending has increased over the years beyond inflation rates.
There is a pressing question in all of this: is it the employer’s responsibility to manage chronic diseases or the employees’? Well, over 80% of Canadians believe that employers are responsible for supporting the physical and mental health of their employees. Studies have shown that incorporating workplace wellness (WWPs) and employee assistance programs (EAPs) not only reduce chronic disease risk factors, but they also promote healthy behaviours. By adding telehealth—and other digital health tools—into these programs, employees can connect to healthcare professionals based on their needs and remain accountable throughout their treatment plans. Benefits of telehealth include:
Increasing employee access to health services — employees can have a medical appointment through video conferencing on their lunch break or send their dietician a question via instant messaging on their commute home;
Generating annual savings for employers — promoting health and wellness in the workplace is positively correlated with reducing direct and indirect healthcare costs for the employer;
Improving employee satisfaction and retention rates — providing virtual care creates a corporate culture focused on the wellbeing of their employees, which reduces absenteeism and promotes employee engagement.
With the development of digital health tools, such as remote patient monitoring and telehealth, it’s become much easier for employers to provide health and wellness resources to their employees. We’re already seeing a trend in virtual care, with millions of patients seeing their healthcare providers over Skype or Facetime. This is why more and more employers are contracting healthcare professionals and organizations to take care of their employees, through WWPs and EAPs. Minimizing chronic diseases in the workplace is crucial in reducing the economic and health burden that is currently weighing on employers, their employees and the country’s nationalized health system.
As of now, there is still room for improvement in chronic disease and telehealth adoption rates in Canada. Everyone is responsible and should be held accountable. But, employers have a great opportunity to improve their employee wellness and assistance programs through telehealth and serve as a catalyst for change. The adoption of virtual care would not only benefit employers. Virtual care in smaller healthcare clinics has the potential to generate a better return on investment for clinic owners.