We might be in the middle of a global pandemic, but this hasn’t changed the fact that most employees are still reporting to work every day. The big difference is that since March many of us only commute 20–60 feet.
An MIT study on COVID-19 and Remote Work found that nearly half the U.S. workforce is working remotely. That includes 34.1% of U.S. workers who shifted from office venues as fears about the Coronavirus grew and mandated state-at-home orders took effect.
This shift has profound implications. For example, Alight Solutions / Business Group on Health reported in mid-June that half of all virtual workers “are more likely to feel lonely and burned out.” As how we work evolves, companies need to evolve too. A key factor is thinking differently about benefits and putting in place virtual care solutions to ensure home-based workers have access to care.
Here are four reasons to embrace virtual care benefits.
Home Offices are Different
Our traditional offices have adjustable chairs, height-adjusted keyboard shelves, contoured headsets, foot rests, walking desks, and other ergonomic and health-related tools designed to avoid injury and alleviate pain. Our kitchen-table-couch-bedroom offices typically do not. There has been an increase in back and neck pain as home workstations lack proper ergonomic structure. We’re also seeing more ankle and foot problems as people working from home are going barefoot for sustained periods of time.
Even without the added strain of home-office setups, millions of Americans suffer from musculoskeletal conditions (MSK). The U.S. spends $130 billion to address the musculoskeletal system and employers rank MSK as one of the top conditions impacting their healthcare costs.
Workers Still Need Access to Care
The surge in COVID-19 cases has tied up hospital rooms and put elective surgeries and other non-emergency health care visits on hold. This includes the temporary shuttering of many physical therapy clinics, which have closed in an effort to help flatten the curve. That has left many of the 50 million Americans who live with chronic pain without resources, including the 20 million whose pain is so severe that it limits their work or life abilities.
Virtual Benefits Offer a Simplified Pathway to Care
While our healthcare system is severely stressed, there are options available to deliver care safely into the comfort of people’s homes. Virtual care solutions can help companies not only ensure access to care for their employees but also allow that access to scale up over time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends physical therapy as the first-line treatment for musculoskeletal pain. Virtual care benefits can simplify the care journey to connect workers with MSK care experts. Moreover, empowering patients with an efficient path to specialized care can prevent unnecessary injections, addictive opioids, imaging, and surgeries. This in turn will reduce the burden of increasing healthcare costs.
Payment Structures Are Starting to Catch Up
The need for care doesn’t stop in a pandemic, and COVID-19 has accelerated the use of telehealth for both routine visits and access to specialists. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) emergency telehealth regulations allow Medicare patients to use telehealth for a wide range of services that previously required face-to-face visits. AHIP has a handy guide to the steps individual insurers have taken to improve access, including across state lines.
But there’s still a lot of work to do to improve virtual care access to MSK experts. There is currently a patchwork of 50 state-level boards plus the District of Columbia individually regulating how physical therapists are licensed and can deliver care. This antiquated system hinders one of the key benefits of virtual solutions—the ability to access care anywhere and serve underserved communities.
We have fundamentally shifted how work gets done. Now it’s time we also shift how we care for our employees’ mental and physical wellbeing. Virtual care benefits must be part of the solution.
Dan Rubinstein is the CEO of Physera, the provider of high quality, evidence based virtual care for musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions. With a nationwide network of licensed physical therapists, Physera’s program provides care navigation, MSK triage, diagnosis, and personalized guided exercise therapy through the convenience of your smartphone.