Telehealth Slows

sip-telehealthAccording to a survey of healthcare professionals by Klas Research, telehealth visits have leveled off at about 20% of all healthcare appointments. While telehealth services are still used frequently for primary care and behavioral health, the percentage of telehealth visits is considerably lower than it was during the early phase of Covid-19.

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US Mortality Rate Rises

pandemicAs expected, the Covid-19 Pandemic took a toll on our nation’s mortality rate. According to provisional data from the CDC, our age-adjusted mortality rate, which measures deaths per 100,000 people, rose by about 16 percent in 2020. Experts say this surge was the largest since the 1920s when disease outbreaks were more common. While the vaccines have drastically lowered Covid death rates, experts say the effects of missed screenings and other problems could be felt for up to two years.

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More Women Avoided Care

health-blogThe Kaiser Family Foundation reports that more women than men failed to receive preventive care during the pandemic. Statistics show that 38% of women skipped their annual checkup compared to 26% of men and nearly one in four women failed to get a recommended medical test or treatment versus only 15% of men. Income did not appear to be a big factor, leading consultants to believe that fear of exposure to Covid-19 and the inability to access medical facilities were big contributing factors.

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Quantity Over Quality

waterDietitians recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces per day – that’s 75 ounces of water daily if you weigh 150 pounds. But what type of bottled water is best? The International Bottled Water Association offers the following descriptions.

Spring water comes from underground, flowing naturally to the earth’s surface.

Purified water is produced by distillation, deionization, reverse osmosis or other approved process.

Mineral water is natural and contains a constant level of mineral elements coming from its source. No other minerals can be added.

Sparkling bottled water is treated but can only contain the same amount of carbon dioxide it had when it emerged from its source.

While well water is derived from a hole in the ground that taps the water aquifer, artesian well water comes from a source above an underground layer or rock or sand.

Alkaline water has a higher pH level than tap water, meaning that it is less acidic.

While many choices exist, health experts say the amount of water you consume is far more important than the type of water. No matter what water you prefer, keep a bottle handy and stay hydrated!

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Lyft to the Doctor?

In response to a 2019 study showing that millions of patients fail to receive required medical care due to a lack of transportation, ride-sharing company Lyft is partnering with sponsoring

healthcare organizations to let patients request rides for non-emer- gency medical appointments, vaccinations or prescription pickups. While the company tried this previ- ously with employers covering the cost for employees, these “Lyft Passes,” similar to those used to provide rides to and from Covid-19 vaccinations, would be sponsored by health plans including Medicare and Medicaid.

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Return, Remote or Both

member-educationSurveys showing that about half of office workers would prefer to continue working remotely have many organizations debating how to respond to loosening CDC restrictions. As of mid-May, about a third seem to be planning to bring workers back and half or more are preparing to move forward with a mix of remote and in-person staff.

Over the past year or so, many companies have learned to manage remote staffing but supervising a hybrid workforce could pose unique challenges. Scheduling, spacing people out in work areas and tracking time and performance are a few common concerns. Some employers are taking steps to make sure that in-office workers and those working at home are treated equally in future performance reviews. One interesting concern for offices bringing workers back is vaccinations. While few employers have mandated vaccinations, those making masks optional are hoping to avoid conflicts between employees who choose to wear a mask and those who do not.

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How Are Your Employees Really Doing?

stressThe American Psychological Association reports that nearly 80% of adults say the Coronavirus pandemic was a significant source of stress in their life. The U.S. Census Bureau says the percentage of surveyed employees experiencing anxiety or depression rose from 11% in 2019 to more than 40% this Spring. There is no doubt that even as restrictions ease and more people return to their offices, employers will need to place a very high priority on mental health and wellness.

As we know, there are no one size fits all solutions to employee well-being and every organization is different. The following qualities, however, are even more important to employees when stress is running at a high level.

Connection – When remote workers are separated from co-workers and managers, personal concerns can weigh more heavily. Finding time for people to connect, even virtually, is important.

Communication – Keeping workers informed about what’s to expect in the near future is comforting. Knowing your job is safe in difficult times can relieve a great deal of pressure.

Encouragement – Recognition is more meaningful than employers often realize. Everyone wants to know the work they are doing is important and their efforts are appreciated.

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What the Pandemic Has Taught Us

pandemicWhether you’re a TPA, broker, employer, plan member or healthcare provider, the past year has been unlike any other. While adapting has often been difficult, some of the lessons learned can have a positive impact on employee healthcare in the future. Here are a few to consider as you begin your planning for the coming year.

Open Enrollment

According to the IFEBP, 1 in 5 companies handled open enrollment differently in 2020, with many using virtual benefit events. Virtual benefits meetings can be viewed by members from any location at any time. In addition, members can easily share their benefits information with a spouse or family member, something that cannot be done with traditional in-person events. Many used short video introductions and important details were typically made available on secure online employee portals following the virtual event. Offering a dedicated email address, phone line or online chat option can make it easy for members to ask questions.

Telemedicine

Think for a moment that Cleveland Clinic delivered 1.2 million virtual physician visits in 2020, compared to just 37,000 in 2019. Even after resuming in-person appointments, 30% to 40% of all visits at Stanford Health Care are virtual and while physicians and patients say there is certainly room for improvement, nearly 3 of 4 patients say they are likely to choose a video consult over in-person in the future. While many physicians say they would prefer to use telehealth visits to manage chronic diseases, many cite low or no reimbursement and technology challenges on the part of their patients as the biggest obstacles to its continued use.

Health Benefit Value

One challenge that remains even as the threat of Covid-19 lessens is the rising costs facing employer-sponsored health plans. Research from the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Hartford show a decline in the perceived value of health benefits by plan sponsors and members. These trends can only change as personal service improves and the barriers standing in the way of healthcare cost transparency are overcome.

As an independent TPA, we place the needs of your health plan and members first by providing personalized service and striving to eliminate costly conflicts of interest that have plagued our healthcare system.

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Boosting Employee Engagement

commonsense-reportingAccording to a recent article in Employee Benefit News, the long-lasting pandemic has many employers looking for ways to help employees stay in touch with their organizations and with one another. A survey by employee engagement platform Glint showed that more than 40 percent of employees say that being disconnected due to remote working is the biggest risk to getting burned out.

In response, LinkedIn has made updates to its popular B2B platform to make it easier for workers to share company content and stories about work-related events. LinkedIn is also addressing mental stress by offering new free courses on meditation. Employers large and small are taking steps to build a stronger culture. If remote working is taking a toll on your organization, you may want to take a fresh look at LinkedIn.

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Beware Cyber Sickness

millennialsWith so many adults and kids spending increased time in front of bright screens, some may be experiencing what behavioral health experts call Cyber Sickness, a feeling similar to motion sickness. While researchers have linked this technologically induced feeling to virtual reality, some have found that it can result from spending extended periods of time looking at screens.

It appears that prolonged screen time can confuse the brain by making it think you’re moving. Visual messages from the eyes fail to synch with the inner ear and other receptors that tell the central nervous system you are moving. While symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headaches and poor balance can be experienced by children and adults, it seems to be most common in people prone to motion sickness. If you’re spending inordinate amounts of time in front of a screen, you may want to try…

  • Reduced recreational screen time
  • Taking short breaks to rest your eyes
  • Rotating between audio and virtual conferences
  • Closing your eyes or focus on something solid such as the edge of your desk
  • Use arrow keys rather than a mouse to slow the movement of screen images

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