How do digital GP services fit in a health and wellbeing strategy?

Need to know:

  • Digital GPs complement other health and wellbeing benefits such as physiotherapy, employee assistance programmes (EAPs) and mental health programmes.
  • Employees may wish to speak to a virtual GP before they use additional health and wellbeing support benefits.
  • Encouraging the use of digital GP services could reduce absence levels, increase productivity and prevent long-term sick leave.

Due to recent events brought on by the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic, online services are becoming a pinnacle of health and wellbeing strategies, with the usage of digital GPs increasingly favourable.

Lukasz Rzeczkowski, co-founder and chief development officer at Trustedoctor, says: A proper employer health and wellbeing strategy should have access to a digital GP and a mental health service. I believe it’s a crucial part and it’s been evolving the past few years. The online GP is here to stay and it’s going to be a standard benefit that is embedded into a wellbeing strategy regardless of whether it’s provided through employee benefits or insurance.”

Complementary benefits

Whether a digital GP service is offered as an enhanced benefit within a private medical insurance plan (PMI) or as a standalone product, the service is still the same, and it fits nicely alongside a portfolio of other benefits that an organisation may offer, such as an employee assistance programme (EAP), mental health support services and physiotherapy.

Glenn Thompson, customer solutions director at Unum, explains: “If [an employer] offers the remote GP, the second opinion service and physio, and support systems such as EAPs, [it’s] got a well-rounded health strategy. Employees can access EAP services and other types of counselling, and even health and wellbeing perks daily, [while] digital GP services they may use less often, but fairly regularly. It sits right at the core of an employee health and wellbeing strategy.”

Maintaining a healthy workforce

One of the fundamentals of any health and wellbeing strategy is to keep employees fit and healthy. “What we were hearing prior to Covid-19 was that organisations had the desire to support their employees from a health perspective, both physical and mental, but didn’t know how to do it,” says Thompson. “What we have found due to Covid-19, employers want to know what help services are available, and what the take up and usage is. It’s very difficult to get an appointment with a GP right now, it’s very difficult to get physio also. If employers want to help employees through a difficult time. This is the way to do it.”

Many employees may be fearful of going to a physical GP practice at the moment, which can cause an enormous amount of stress, says Alastair Sclare, managing director at Freedom Health Insurance. “Access to primary health services means employees are happier, less stressed and if they get the treatment they are more healthy. I think it’s that simple,” he says.

Fast access to healthcare advice

One of the advantages of a digital GP is the speed at which an appointment can be arranged and it is becoming one of the most accessible health and wellbeing benefits an employer can offer.

Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, medical director at Bupa UK, says: “It allows employees to get very quick access to a medical appointment online so employees can work their appointments around their busy schedule. If [an employee] needs to wait two to three weeks to get an appointment, it can be off putting and it also delays employees accessing the treatment they need. Being able to arrange an appointment that’s convenient to them, [means] employees feel supported and it reduces absenteeism, allowing employees to get back to work quickly.”

Communication is key

However, employees might access a digital GP service when an EAP or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, may be better suited to their needs. Effectively communicating these as a package will give employees more guidance on what journey best suits their individual needs.

Thiyagarajan explains: “Communicate to employees that if [they] think [they] have a health need this service is available first and utilise it, because dealing with a health condition sooner, rather than later, often reduces the severity of the condition and probably will reduce the time the employee will have to take away from work due to the condition in the future, which is a benefit to the employer as well.”

The future of virtual specialists

With the Coronavirus pandemic still a hot topic of conversation, and the ongoing impact it has on the way we work, employers are having to think of new ways to ensure their health and wellbeing strategy fits the bigger picture.

It should be commonplace for all specialist services to be easily accessed virtually, says Rzeczkowski. “Online GP services are a starting point. Essentially, it’s where the journey of the patient has to start. Go to the GP first, get referred and then get treatment. It’s very important for this service to be accessible, and that’s why it’s so important and highly utilised, but specialist care needs to be the end point and these need to be integrated. The patient journey should be bespoke and joined up. I can access a virtual GP today within an hour, and I have the guidance I need, and then I wait three or four weeks to see a specialist, this is incompatible. This needs to change. “