October marks an important milestone in our organization’s storied history of innovation — the one-year anniversary of Connected Care.
Since the launch of our digital platform on October 2, 2019, Connected Care has been bringing health care directly to our plan members and their families — wherever, whenever and however they need it.
With a few clicks or taps on the screens of their laptops, tablets or mobile phones, we can connect them with a licensed physician or accredited therapist to get medical advice, a diagnosis, a prescription, mental health counselling, a referral to a specialist and more.
What is digital health?
Digital health is a rapidly expanding sector that is as diverse as it is dynamic, covering a broad spectrum of health technologies – from wearable gadgets like Fitbits and continuous glucose monitoring devices to mobile health apps and electronic medical records. Digital health also includes virtual forms of services that were traditionally delivered in person, from psychotherapy to physiotherapy.
As an insurer that is dedicated to treating and preventing illness, enhancing member experience and engagement, encouraging self-care, and optimizing plan value, we saw plenty of potential in Connected Care a year ago — and even more so, today.
Our suite of member-focused services
Our services currently include Online Doctors (virtual doctor visits), Digital Therapy (internet-enabled Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and Personalized Medicine (pharmacogenetic testing), powered by leading partners in health care — Maple, Beacon, Morneau Shepell and GeneYouIn respectively — and are offered exclusively to our plan members at preferred pricing.
To date, there have been over 140,000 visits to the website, and we have more than 4,000 email subscribers.
When we introduced Connected Care a year ago, digital health was gaining momentum, fueled by trends that were driving transformation in other industries: technology, consumerism and personalization.
Staying ahead of the health care trends
We were and continue to embed technology-enabled health solutions and seamless end-to-end processes in our product roadmaps to ensure our offering keeps pace and, better still, stays ahead of these trends.
At the time, new health technologies were getting traction with employers as it became clear that they could make an appreciable difference to health outcomes and organizational performance. According to a 2019 survey by Mercer, more than half of Canadian employers (54%) planned to increase their investment in digital health over the next five years.
The majority of HR professionals (65%) who responded to a survey we commissioned in early 2020 said they intended to place greater focus on web-based, consumer-centric health care for employees. A similar percentage (60%), planned to invest in virtual technology to allow clinicians and patients to interact via video chat or text messaging.
Canadians open to new health technologies
Meanwhile, Canadians were embracing digital health in greater numbers. A 2019 poll by the Canadian Medical Association found that 70% of Canadians would take advantage of virtual physician visits if offered through their benefit plan, while a survey by the Medisys Health Group showed a similar percentage of Canadians (71%) would be willing to sacrifice other health benefits to gain access to online consultation and treatment.
The Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey indicated even stronger support for personalized medicine. Nearly three-quarters of plan members (74%) who participated in the survey would consent to having their DNA analyzed to determine the most effective treatment for their condition, based on their genetic profile, while a majority of plan sponsors (65%) were interested in providing coverage for pharmacogenetic testing.
Our goals for Connected Care
Our main goals for Connected Care were to meet the evolving needs and expectations of plan sponsors and plan members by providing easy, timely reliable access to expert health care and no-cost, value-add options that would yield returns in investment in the form of a healthier, happier and more productive workforce.
We were supported by the survey findings of leading health researchers like Medisys, which calculated that a mid-size company could recover more than 2,600 hours in health-related absenteeism and presenteeism and save $174,000 in lost productivity if even half of their employees used virtual care – returns that would balloon to over 9,800 hours and $673,000 in cost savings for larger organizations
However, none of us could have imagined that a global health crisis was on the near horizon or appreciate the impact this would have on how Canadians access and receive healthcare.
The “pandemic pivot” to virtual care
The outbreak of COVID-19 led to some major “pandemic pivots”, not the least of which was the shift Canadians made from face-to-face medicine to virtual care, with delayed or cancelled doctor appointments, clinic closures and hospital lockdowns motivating them to seek out alternatives.
In virtual care, they found solutions that removed access barriers and ensured continuity of their care, from the security and privacy of their homes.
A survey by the Canadian Mental Health Commission found that, as of mid-May 2020, more than half of Canadians had replaced in-person care with a telephone or online video consultation and a similar percentage said they would be inclined to continue interacting with medical professionals that way after the C-19 crisis subsided.
C-19 crisis accelerated adoption of digital health
Put another way, the global pandemic fast-tracked Canadians’ acceptance and adoption of digital health.
No one knows where the future of digital health is headed — if it will continue to gather speed or go in new directions in the months and years ahead — but, as our COVID-19 experience has reminded us, crisis can bring about transformative, positive change if we are open and receptive to the possibilities.
On that closing note, look for further enhancements to Connected Care in the near future as we continue to offer new and innovative ways for employees to become full partners in their health care and for employers to get full value for every benefit dollar they spend.
For over 75 years, Medavie Blue Cross has been a leading health services partner for individuals, employers and governments across Canada. As the country’s leading Blue Cross plan with over one million card holders, we are a premier all-in-one carrier that provides health, dental, travel, life and disability benefits to...