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Press Release

Employees flock to virtual health care during pandemic, Willis Towers Watson employee survey finds

While nearly half of employees surveyed are deferring medical care, relatively few report suffering worse health outcomes so far

October 28, 2020

Health and Benefits

ARLINGTON, VA, October 28, 2020 — Employee use of virtual health care has surged during the pandemic, with most employees giving the level of care high marks, according to a new survey by leading global advisory, broking and solutions company, Willis Towers Watson. The survey of nearly 5,000 U.S. employees also found that nearly half of respondents have deferred medical care since the start of the pandemic, primarily over COVID-19 and money concerns.

Almost half of respondents (47%) have used virtual care services this year — almost three times more than last year (17%). Employees also gave virtual care high marks compared with face-to-face consultations, with eight in 10 (79%) regarding virtual care as equally as good, and one in four (25%) rating it better. Eight in 10 employees (78%) would consider using virtual care in the future.

“Virtual care turned out to be just what the doctor ordered during the pandemic,” said Julie Stone, managing director, Health and Benefits, Willis Towers Watson. “Employers were quick to expand and educate employees on how to access virtual care, and employees — especially those who were hesitant to access traditional medical care — took advantage of it. While most employees used virtual care for regular screenings and checkups, a significant number were able to utilize it for diagnosis and treatment of a new illness, chronic conditions and importantly, mental health services.”

Other key findings from the 2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey include:

  • 44% have deferred medical care during the pandemic with 30% either cancelling or postponing a treatment or appointment; a quarter of employees (25%) said their medical provider has cancelled or postponed a treatment or appointment.
  • More than six in 10 respondents (61%) cited worries over COVID-19 for deferring care; 42% cited money concerns.
  • Nearly three in 10 employees (29%) who have deferred care said their health suffered as a result of cancelling an appointment or treatment, while 40% expect their health will suffer.
  • One in four employees (26%) said they will increase their health care use when the pandemic ends. Over half (53%) with a chronic condition who deferred care expect to significantly increase their use of health care services when the pandemic ends.
  • One in three employees have used virtual care for regular screening and checkups. One in five have used virtual care for mental health care or treatment for a new illness.
  • Virtual care has opened additional pathways for employees to access care, especially for low-income employees, who are more than 40% more likely to say they got the care they needed when using virtual care.

Relatively few employees (15%) reported their physical health had declined due to the pandemic. Nearly a quarter of employees (22%) said their physical health had improved, while 63% indicated no change; however, the numbers are worse for mental/emotional health. Nearly one-third (29%) said their mental/emotional health had worsened; 53% indicated there was no change, and 18% reported an improvement.

Additionally, more respondents reported improvements than declines in their lifestyle habits (26% versus 23%) and work/life balance (27% versus 21%); however, over four in 10 employees (42%) said their social connections had worsened.

“One of the biggest challenges employers face is how to support employees’ mental health and emotional wellbeing needs. This is especially true for employees who work from home and feel disconnected,” said Regina Ihrke, senior director and wellbeing leader, Willis Towers Watson. “While it’s encouraging that many employees appear to be managing the pandemic well from a physical and lifestyle perspective, it is imperative for employers to closely gauge and take action to improve the wellbeing of their workforce. Those that do so will be best positioned to help employees thrive both now and when the pandemic passes.”

About the survey

The 2020 Global Benefits Attitudes Survey was conducted during the first half of October 2020. Respondents included 4,898 U.S. employees (4,481 full-time) from large and midsize private employers, representing a broad range of industries.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 45,000 employees serving more than 140 countries and markets. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential.

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