The road to recovery: How the COVID-19 pandemic changed the ways we work and access health care

Pacific Blue Cross shares the key insights

Virtual care gets a thumbs-up from patients. Photo provided by Pacific Blue Cross.

Last fall, Pacific Blue Cross sponsored the annual Health Care Forum, hosted by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. Launched with an introduction from the Honourable Adrian Dix, B.C.’s Minister of Health, and keynotes by doctors Isaac Bogach and Penny Ballem, a number of esteemed panelists discussed some of the key impacts COVID-19 has had on health and its intersection with the workplace, as well as the path forward post pandemic. 

Here are some of the key insights Pacific Blue Cross shared with businesses and organizations.

Virtual care is here to stay 

For patients and health care providers, the fast pivot to virtual care has been nothing short of staggering. The Ministry of Health reported that virtual care visits went from 700,000 to 17 million in B.C. as of June 2021. 

The true impact on the health care system won’t be known until we get to the other side of the pandemic, but virtual care is already improving equitability and access to care—especially in areas outside major population centres or for those who don’t have primary doctors—and saves time, money, and hassle for routine care appointments, like prescription refills. This benefits employees and employers alike.

The doctors on the panel all agreed that virtual care will transform how health care is delivered in a post-pandemic world because of the much-needed flexibility and innovation opportunities it enables. Finding the right balance between in-person and virtual visits will be key to improving quality of care and health outcomes in the future. 

Virtual care gets a thumbs-up from patients 

In a 2021 survey, Benefits Canada found that 43% of workplace benefit plan members said they received care virtually, 76% got it from their usual family doctor, and 13% accessed it through their work plan. The vast majority described their experience as excellent or very good.

It’s interesting to note that in the 2020 survey, 71% of plan members said they were “willing to use” virtual care to receive health care services. The year-over-year change from “willing to use” to actually using shows a huge uptake that will only continue to grow.

Mental health and the workplace

Given the emotional distress, social isolation, and financial and housing uncertainties brought on by the pandemic, it has forced everyone to pay a lot more attention to people’s health and wellbeing and what can be done to meet their needs. 

The economic burden of mental health is significant, and employers are heavily impacted by associated absenteeism, presenteeism, turnover/burnout and disability claims. Deloitte has shown that 70% of disability costs (30 – 40% of claims) in Canada result from mental health issues, yet only one third of employers have a mental health strategy in place. 

“Supporting a mentally healthy workplace is an investment, not an expense—and, in return, employers will benefit from a more productive and engaged workforce,” says Brooke Moss, AVP, Work & Wellness at Pacific Blue Cross. “We recommend the use of Canada’s National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, which offers an excellent blueprint to help organizations of all sizes develop a plan that’s appropriate for them. And our Work & Wellness approach supports members in all stages of their health journey, from healthy at work, early intervention for at-risk at work, traditional disability support while off work, and successful return to work.”

Inequities in health 

It’s no surprise that First Nations communities, people with lower incomes, women and young adults were more significantly impacted by the pandemic than most other demographic groups. Access to high-quality, socially safe health care is one of the factors that determines overall health and health outcomes for all Canadians.

In the post-pandemic period, a collective goal should be to remove obstacles to good health, ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to be as healthy as possible no matter who they are, where they live, or how much money they earn.

This snapshot belies the richness of the conversations that took place during the two forum sessions. “There were many points of consensus from all our esteemed speakers and panelists, but two resonated most with me,” says John Crawford, President and CEO, Pacific Blue Cross. “First, COVID-19 has accelerated change that was going to happen anyway, and the crisis is offering opportunities to learn from past inertia. Second, the pandemic is an experience we’re all having together, and partnership is needed more than ever to help address the post-pandemic period. We’ll be proud to play whatever role we can with the business community to improve health and wellbeing for British Columbians.” 

For more information about Pacific Blue Cross, visit pac.bluecross.ca