BHSF's Brian Hall explores why access to a 24/7 GP is such a positive way to boost employee health
Amazon's virtual assistant is set to be part of the government's long-term plan for the NHS, in an attempt to ease pressure on the service - especially GPs. This idea might bring speed and convenience, but should people really be putting their trust in a robot when it comes to something as serious as their health?
It's easy to see why this idea has been brought to life. Currently in the UK, there's a week's waiting time for a third of all GP appointments, and for 18% - a wait of two weeks or more. The public's satisfaction with the NHS is at its lowest level since 2007, with GP waiting times being stated as one of the main reasons. For GPs, the pressure is on but numbers are falling - by more than 1,000 in 2018.
For employees, who struggle to see their GP between working and personal commitments, these waiting times are a major barrier to seeking medical advice. Throw in long waiting times, the hassle of having to take time off work, battling past the receptionist to actually see the GP, and the fear of bad news - and it's no surprise that many employees choose to soldier on and hope the problem will just go away.
It's perhaps no surprise that the UK has seen a rise of ‘presenteeism' - working when you should be off sick - over the past few years. 86% of employees have seen this happen in their workplace, three times the number than in 2010. In the same survey, just 25% said their employer was proactively trying to resolve the issue.
It all paints a concerning picture for employers, who are clearly struggling to solve the UK's ‘productivity puzzle'.
So, what can your clients do to better support their employees? Private medical insurance (PMI) could be an option for some, but it's an expensive choice for a whole workforce. Access to a 24/7 GP helpline is a much cheaper way for them to make a positive impact on their employees' physical health.
A GP helpline is open to all employees and their families - meaning they can get fast access to a doctor, when they need it most. It's also a cost-effective benefit that can be offered to all employees across the business, no matter how senior. And they get to talk to a real person, not a robot.
One of the main difficulties employees face is getting an appointment that suits their work and personal commitments. When you consider the average commuting time in the UK is almost an hour, rising to 74 minutes for those in London, plus the time it takes to get to the GP surgery and any delays once there - for many employees, a trip to their doctors turns into a half-day away from work. For those in roles with fixed hours or with caring responsibilities outside of the office, this is a major barrier to seeing their GP. With a 24/7 helpline, employees can choose the time of day and the day of the week that suits their schedule, putting them in control of their own healthcare.
Fast medical advice
"A stitch in time saves nine" - an old saying that can be especially true when it comes to health. Aches and pains could be harmless, but they could also be the first signs of a major illness. Having access to a GP when they need it can encourage employees to act faster.
It's simple to set up
There's no complicated medical details to collect or time-consuming administration to process. This service can be set up quickly and easily, with little hassle for you or your client.
Employers can spot early warning signs
Management info data can indicate to your clients what additional support could be useful for their employees. For example, if a high proportion of calls are related to mental health, employers could consider introducing mental health first-aiders or funded counselling. Evaluating the data means your clients can get an insight into what support their employees actually need.
As the workforce evolves, a greater premium is being placed on employee benefits that are flexible, easily accessible and adaptable. It's time for employers to reassess their health provision and consider options that fit their employees' needs.
Brian Hall is chief commercial officer at BHSF
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