Nearly half of organisations expect to expand their healthcare benefits – especially telehealth offerings – due to longer NHS waiting lists.
With nearly three-quarters (72%) of employers expecting delays to NHS treatment to continue, 46% said they would need to expand their own healthcare coverage, according to Willis Towers Watson.
Eighty-nine per cent expected to boost their telehealth offering, however 43% worried that the complexity involved in accessing such services would be a barrier to adoption.
The most common digital health and wellbeing benefits employers had in place were mental health services (68%); consultations with general practitioners (68%); and physiotherapy/musculoskeletal support (45%).
Many planned to expand their wellbeing provision in the next two years to offer enhanced support for menopause (37%), male health (30%), additional female health (29%), gender transition (28%) and fertility treatment (23%).
Mark Ramsook, senior director, health and benefits, at Willis Towers Watson said: “Telemedicine may have hit the headlines in recent years, but it took a global pandemic to shine the light on its true efficacy and potential. The pandemic has forced healthcare providers’ hands and has accelerated the journey to telehealth becoming a ubiquitous part of the health experience.
“For employers, telemedicine brings a large number of benefits. Used appropriately, it can help reduce healthcare costs, increase productivity and boost employee engagement. We are already seeing artificial intelligence and machine learning advancements help healthcare providers to enhance remote patient services, make processes more efficient and streamlined, and provide more accurate remote diagnosis and treatment recommendations.”
The survey of 213 senior employee benefits professionals at UK organisations also showed the impact the mental health consequences of the pandemic were having on the benefits employers offered.
Three-quarters said they would prioritise improvements to their employee benefits provision in this area over the short and medium term.
Seventy-eight per cent said that they would seek to enhance mental health and stress management provision in the next six months, while 64% said that raising awareness of their existing programmes was a short-term priority.
“Last year many employers shifted very quickly to a new remote way of working and worked hard to reduce the challenges this posed to employees using existing structures, programmes and benefits. A year later, many are concerned that the mental health implications of this prolonged period of social distancing needs addressing further through new and enhanced employee benefits, as well as initiatives such as peer-orientated support networks and access to trained mental health champions,” said Ramsook.