In the future, telehealth benefits for employees will be an integral component of a firm’s plans for the well-being of its staff
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed healthcare to the forefront of every organisation’s agenda. Businesses across the world have adapted to telecommuting, reconfigured work environments and logistics and updated operating protocols to cope with the effects of the global health emergency. While there has always been a correlation between the health of the population and the economy, never has it been more apparent than in the Covid era. Governments across the globe have realised that investing in the health of the population can not only improve the quality of life of citizens and mitigate the risk of a public health crisis, it can lead to greater economic returns and productivity, too.
The pandemic is set to cause a 4.5 per cent permanent loss to India’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), say experts. Poor health and loss of productive potential among the working population will only make things more difficult. If we want to achieve a healthier nation and minimise economic losses, we need to shift the focus to preventive care. A large percentage of economic benefits can be achieved with safer work environments, increasing access to medicines, preventive care and by encouraging workers to adopt healthier lifestyles. The rest will come from timely treatment of diseases with proven medical interventions.
Change is imperative: The switch to prevention is easier said than done. Not only does it necessitate the need to shift incentives in the existing healthcare systems to health promotion, but it foregrounds the need to make better health a policy prerogative, too. The contagion has also highlighted the importance of tackling noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), which have been one of the leading causes of India’s disease burden. NCDs are responsible for 61 per cent of the deaths in the country, and we need to focus on scaling up screening programmes and awareness drives to address chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, heart and lung diseases, stroke and cancer. A paradigm shift to focus on preventive care can be realised at a low cost and the implementation costs will be more than offset by the gains to productivity in healthcare delivery.
Time to rethink the healthcare architecture: The outbreak has demonstrated that it is possible to reevaluate healthcare service delivery. Reimagining workforce and patient flow in COVID-19 wards and a move to teleconsultations are just two notable transitions. People are already demonstrating that it is not that difficult to induce a behavioural shift by showing their readiness to wear masks, prioritise hand hygiene and reduce person-to-person interactions in order to help curtail the spread of the virus.
The contagion has also fast-tracked innovation and collaboration by scientists across the globe. If this is sustained, it can help us address major health conditions like cardiovascular diseases, cancers and mental health disorders. As of September this year, scientists have shared more than 50,000 genome sequences and close to 200 vaccines are in different stages of development. Many of these are the result of multi-sectoral, transnational collusions. Companies are playing a key role in the ongoing transformation and pharmaceutical giants, healthcare providers and the medical technology industry are an integral part of the pandemic response. They should further come up with ways to build on innovations and help do their part in the ongoing remodeling of healthcare systems. They must ensure the alignment of incentives and efficient collaboration to improve the overall health and prosperity of the population.
The corporate world needs to adapt: Companies outside the healthcare domain are also adapting to the crisis by revamping their organisational workflow and operation models. There is a strong economic case to be made for the need to invest in the health of their employees. In today’s fast-paced and hectic corporate world, occupational risks are increasingly linked to mental health triggers, sleep hygiene and the level of physical activity. Mental health, too, is fast becoming a concern as the economic uncertainty associated with the pandemic is beginning to take its toll. Chronic conditions like migraines, back pain and mental health problems like anxiety and depression can reduce the productivity of workers and have a negative effect on the quality of life. Companies should seriously consider providing greater access to mental health services and more flexible working hours.
Encouraging workers to take advantage of telehealth and virtual programmes is the first step. Times like these bring a lot of uncertainty and anxiety, and people feel the need to talk to a counsellor. Mobility restrictions not only make that more difficult but also end up exacerbating symptoms of anxiety. That is precisely where telehealth comes into play. It will help people cope better in times of crises and induce a behavioural change in their attitudes towards seeking remote help, which is necessary as we increasingly adapt to a digitally-mediated life. By offering telehealth benefits, organisations will have an engaged and productive workforce while employees benefit from a convenient and readily accessible form of healthcare. In the future, telehealth benefits for employees will be an integral component of a firm’s plans for the well-being of its staff.
(The writer is CEO Apollo TeleHealth)