High-quality healthcare can be virtual—but HR must help deliver it (2024)

Virtual healthcare in America is at a turning point. After a boost during the pandemic, enthusiasm for it has been waning, and adoptionrates are dropping.

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In recent days, some companies, including Walmart and Optum, have announced that they are reducing or ending their current virtual care offerings. As Fierce Healthcare reports, “The virtual care market is evolving and moving away from commoditized models like virtual urgent care.”

As HR leaders, we know that having virtual care options for our employees is crucial. Nothing powers the success of an organization more than the wellbeing of the workforce. The healthier our teams are in every way, the greater their productivity, creativity, innovation, collaboration, satisfaction—and likelihood of staying with us. Research shows that when people tap into the opportunities of virtual healthcare, they’re more likely to get treatment for illnesses, build healthier habits and improve their wellness overall.

However, the current shift happening in virtual care is not negative news. It can also spell opportunity. HR leaders can take this moment to consider and discover new solutions that offer better primary and multispecialty care than ever. In fact, we can give our employees access to the best healthcare that most of them have ever had—even better than their in-person visits. To understand how we need to look first at where virtual healthcare has struggled.

What’s behind the recent decrease in adoption? Surveys suggest that some people question the effectiveness of virtual healthcare appointments. Some find their experiences with it to be less than perfect in the sense of expectations based on the past.

Working in this space, I’ve also seen that many people are unaware that a wide array of conditions can be treated effectively through virtual care. The long-ingrained idea that a doctor needs to see you in person prevents some Americans from trusting virtual care for the long term.

The drop in adoption comes at a precipitous time, as more Americans than ever face chronic conditions. “Today, an estimated 133 million Americans—nearly half the population—suffer from at least one chronic illness, such as hypertension, heart disease and arthritis,” the American Heart Association reports. Those of us on the frontline know this. “That figure is 15 million higher than just a decade ago, and by 2030, this number is expected to reach 170 million.”

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Just five of the most common chronic conditions alone cost U.S. employers more than $36 billion annually in missed days of work, according to the CDC. Virtual healthcare can go a long way in treating and helping people manage chronic conditions.

When you account for the proliferation of healthcare deserts across the country, the need for virtual care becomes greater than ever. By one estimate, more than 80% of U.S. counties lack access to adequate healthcare services. This means that seeing a doctor requires long trips and time away from work, something that many employees cannot afford to do. The permanence of remote work also exacerbates this problem as people move further away from highly populated areas. Without a quality virtual care solution, many people will forgo treatment altogether.

See also: Enthusiasm for virtual healthcare is waning, but investments continue

Building virtual healthcare around excellence

All of these problems can be tackled when virtual healthcare tools are built in new ways. As organizations working in this space move beyond “commoditized models,” they can instead deliver something greater.

Working at Galileo, I’ve seen that these options are available. And that gives me great hope for the future of virtual healthcare. I see top, committed healthcare experts in their fields coming together with tech experts to construct new tools from the ground up. Their joint goal is to make virtual healthcare experiences so positive, user-friendly and effective that people want to take part in them, the same way that people are so enticed by so many other apps on their phones.

There’s also a widespread commitment to boost virtual healthcare’s already impressive effectiveness levels even further. This can be done in numerous ways, such as including more tools that get people engaged in their own wellbeing, establishing more frequent check-ins through whichever system is easiest for the user (texts, calls, video meetings), offering easy-to-use tools that track a patient’s progress and more. The goal is an improved, frictionless patient experience.

In my years leading the benefits strategy at the Walt Disney Company, I had the chance to work closely with all stakeholders in healthcare—providers, hospitals, employers, health plan executives, benefit consultants and, most important of all, individual employees as well as their families. I saw a great desire for ways to build virtual healthcare into the system, which is already overtaxed, to meet employers where they are. It’s clear to me that this can be done. The possibilities for better care—when and where needed—are endless.

Every HR leader I know shares my passion for building a healthier workforce. My message to them: Don’t look past virtual care. Look for it to enter a new, better era—and be a part of it. When more of us join the effort, the more our organizations and the people who make them function each day will thrive.

High-quality healthcare can be virtual—but HR must help deliver it (2024)
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