As the number of COVID-19 cases surges in the US, there is a looming threat facing the country: healthcare capacity. According to the American Hospital Association (AHA), there are close to 6,146 hospitals with 924,107 beds, and only a small fraction are isolated.[i] Given this stark reality, senior executives at companies must make swift decisions to protect their employees, their communities, and even the US healthcare system. Many companies have made the right move and have enforced remote working — a preventative measure to prevent spread. The next step is to double-click into being reactive to employee healthcare needs. Toward this end, companies should:
- Raise awareness and support virtual care options for employees. Most employers and health plans (nine out of 10 in the US) already provide access to virtual care services, but many employees are still unaware that they exist.[ii] At a minimum, virtual care services will calm anxieties around the virus.[iii] By providing access to a licensed professional, patients can be triaged at home, enabling health providers to prioritize severe patients for in-person care and testing.
In this moment of need, raise awareness of virtual care services to your employees. If you can, offer subsidies to cover these services. While many programs are less expensive than an in-person visit, others are not. These services help triage workers to determine if it is safe for them to come to work or if they should quarantine (if they cannot work remotely) and help support employees with chronic conditions who are afraid to risk exposure in hospital waiting rooms. If your health plan does not offer these benefits, educate your employees about direct-to-consumer (DTC) options. Teladoc and Doctor On Demand are just two examples of a highly saturated DTC virtual care market.
- Provide meaningful on-site support to workers who cannot stay home. For many businesses, a remote workforce is impossible. Employers facing this reality need to move fast to establish an on-site strategy that protects workers. While hand washing/sanitizing, staggered work shifts, and other preventative measures are helpful, on-site clinical support has also become necessary. On-site clinics are being leveraged to address the medical needs of employees during the epidemic, including symptom screenings, self-quarantine and return-to-work guidance, testing and treatment referrals, and coordinated clinical handoffs to local health systems for employees who require higher-level medical support.
Strong leadership demonstrated during these difficult times will positively or negatively influence your firm’s brand reputation for years to come. Executive teams must put employees and the employee experience first. Assemble your management team and provide frequent daily updates to your employees. As in any major change management transformation, you cannot overcommunicate. Your employees need to understand that executives support them as a first priority, even if tough financial and operational decisions need to be made. Make decisions with thought and in an expeditious manner to protect your most valuable asset: your people.
[i] Source: “Fast Facts on U.S. Hospitals, 2020,” American Hospital Association, January 2020 (https://www.aha.org/statistics/fast-facts-us-hospitals).
[ii] Source: “Mercer Survey Finds US Employers Shifting To Innovative Strategies To Make Healthcare More Affordable For More Employees,” Mercer press release, October 28, 2019 (https://www.mercer.com/newsroom/mercer-survey-finds-us-employers-shifting-to-innovative-strategies-to-make-healthcare-more-affordable-for-more-employees.html).
[iii] Source: “Millions of Chinese, cooped up and anxious, turn to online doctors,” The Economist, March 5, 2020 (https://www.economist.com/business/2020/03/05/millions-of-chinese-cooped-up-and-anxious-turn-to-online-doctors).