Digital health technologies have been adopted at an accelerating pace to enable patients and healthcare providers to adapt to the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many observers today agree that this rapid shift in healthcare delivery will continue and that the pandemic has officially propelled us into a technological revolution in healthcare.
A recent survey by the Canadian Medical Association shows that Canadians welcome the virtual care options they use due to the pandemic, and would like to see them improved and expanded in the future.
“Technology plays one of the most important roles in the future of healthcare delivery – in its practice and its evolution,” said Charles Lewis, vice president and chief technology officer at TELUS Health, in the Benefits Canada section “The Performers” (September 2020) . *
For mental health-related illnesses, this rapid adoption of technology has transformed the way people can access care and follow their treatment.
With the pandemic putting the mental health of employees particularly hard, now is the time for employers to leverage digital health technologies to optimize the mental health and well-being of their employees.
Mental health in the spotlight with the second wave of the pandemic.
According to TELUS Health’s 2020 Canadian Drug Consumption Trends and Benchmarks Report , 2019 saw the largest increase in the past five years in terms of average eligible costs for private drug plans. One of the main factors – as well as one of the most important findings of this year’s report – is the increased use of drugs to treat mental health problems; antidepressants accounting for the greatest number of claims. And this was all before COVID-19.
As Canada enters the second wave of the pandemic, many employees still work remotely and remain isolated from colleagues and friends, while balancing their work with their personal and family demands. This unprecedented situation created a lot of anxiety and emotional stress and, in some situations, financial strain.
Mental Health Research Canada recently highlighted trends in the mental health of Canadians following the pandemic.Despite reduced containment restrictions and new cases of COVID between April and August, high levels of anxiety and depression have remained stable across Canada (anxiety: 20% of the population in April and 22% in August; depression: 10% of the population in April and 13% in August).
Offer digital health tools to improve employee mental health and reduce costs.
While the pandemic has dramatically increased the stress levels of employees, stress and mental health have been a concern of employers for several years. For the latter, the costs associated with stress at work remain high.
In the Benefits Canada column, Sanjay Cherian, Vice President, Strategy and Digital Health at TELUS Health, explains the financial implications associated with high stress levels at work. “For a typical large employer (500+ employees) in Canada, the costs are about $ 600 per employee, or $ 3.5 million per year,” says Cherian.
And as that number grows, health technologies have the potential to improve access to mental health professionals and ensure that challenges are addressed and treated quickly and effectively. “Plan sponsors understand that the well-being of their employees is an important determinant of productivity in the workplace,” says Cherian.
The ability to deliver advanced digital health tools means plan sponsors and employers can take a more preventive approach to employee mental health. This means that the health problems of plan members are addressed upstream to avoid costly circumstances downstream. For employers and providers, this approach could lower the cost curve in the future.
Digitization improves care and the patient experience.
To reduce costs and improve results, the industry has already started to rethink the delivery and monitoring of mental health care. In today’s fast and mobile society, the integration of virtual care applications and platforms into healthcare plans is becoming more and more common. The advantages of this integration are numerous.
As Lewis points out, technology enables the digitization of existing healthcare practices and the integration, presentation and analysis of data from multiple sources. This integration enables healthcare professionals to improve the care they receive for their patients across the healthcare continuum.
By digitizing patient files, healthcare providers can optimize examinations, predict risks, and develop personalized mental health plans. Employees can take better care of their health by having access to their complete medical records at all times. Digital platforms and applications can help manage prescriptions and improve administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments and reminders. With the available data, insurance claims can also be processed more quickly.
Digital solutions, often powered by artificial intelligence (AI) capable of handling large amounts of data, can improve diagnostic, processing and monitoring capabilities – and all at a reasonable cost.
Virtual care and mobile apps advance the delivery of mental health care.
Mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, are giving people new and faster ways to get information, access care and follow treatment. Virtual care platforms and tools, which offer online mental health consultations, will be an important part of the future of employee health and well-being.
For example, tools like Akira from TELUS Health already offer a large mental health program that continues to grow. This simple and intuitive platform allows users to access on-demand support anywhere, anytime. Its mental health screening and assessment function helps identify and diagnose mental health needs while providing an internal link to psychiatry departments to develop individual treatment plans and personalized wellness management of mind . It also ensures continuity of care by setting up proactive follow-ups by physicians to ensure adherence to treatment, while overseeing many aspects of patient treatment plans.
Mobile apps also offer exciting options to support chronic disease management, especially when paired with reports that link to benefit costs. The Babylon app by TELUS Health, which includes a chat-based symptom checker, aims to improve the efficiency of communications with physicians for better health outcomes.
Foster employee well-being through connectivity and collaboration.
For illnesses related to mental health, it is particularly relevant to focus on improving care across the entire patient care continuum; which can help employees in their process of well-being or treatment. Additionally, integrating physical or virtual consultations with technology-generated reminders, tracking and health data can increase treatment adherence and have a positive effect on mental health outcomes.
Ultimately, the greater integration of technology into mental health care is primarily about empowering people to maintain greater control over their mental health journey. By enhancing connectivity and fostering collaboration, healthcare technologies can contribute to employee well-being while providing more personalization, convenience and efficiency. And with mental health issues related to the pandemic on the rise, employers can now equip their employees with the right tools to weather the storm.
Key points to remember.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain the mental health of employees – with Canadians reporting high levels of stress and anxiety – which puts mental health at the top of organizations’ priorities.
While recognizing that good mental health is an important factor in workplace productivity, plan sponsors and employers are looking for ways to strengthen their mental health offering and take a more preventative approach to employee well-being. .
The digitization of existing care practices offers new possibilities for diagnosis, treatment and monitoring; enabling healthcare professionals to improve patient services across the continuum of care.
Virtual care platforms and tools will be an important part of the future of patient care and well-being, improving employee access to care and positively impacting mental health outcomes.