Woman looking at fabric swatches with a man in an office

How Telemedicine Reduces Absenteeism and Boosts Workplace Performance

October 17, 2019
Woman looking at fabric swatches with a man in an office

How Telemedicine Reduces Absenteeism and Boosts Workplace Performance

When our employees miss work frequently due to illness, the entire company can suffer. As an employer, monitoring your employees’ performance is all part of the job. Much of the time, this includes supporting their health and well-being.

Claudine Ducharme, a consulting partner at Morneau Shepell, puts it this way: “If employees are responsible for their health, employers are responsible for creating and maintaining a healthy and stimulating work environment.” 

But historically, it has been expensive and time-consuming to support healthcare. Canadians report practices asking patients to limit their discussions to one issue per session, which increases the likelihood of returning to the doctor to resolve a health issue. Between commutes, wait times, and actually seeing the doctor each time it becomes difficult for employees to fit in care between business hours. So how do employees balance their personal well-being and their professional responsibilities?

This is where telemedicine can come into play for your company—at the intersection of absenteeism and work productivity. 


What is absenteeism? 

Absenteeism is a huge workplace issue. In 2011, the Conference Board of Canada found that the average rate of absenteeism for a full-time worker was 9.3 percent. That number may seem small, but consider that the same study found absent employees cost companies $16.6 billion annually. This number may be even higher because “only 46 percent of employers tracked absenteeism,” with 15 percent of those also calculating their loss.


Top causes of absenteeism

The Conference Board of Canada looked at absenteeism trends in the country. Unsurprisingly, they found that as people age they miss more work due to illness and disability. This came to 13.2 days for those 55 to 64 compared to 5.9 days for those 20-24. The same study looked at what drives absenteeism and broke it down into three categories: societal influences like community support, personal characteristics like stress and health issues, and organizational influences like work environment.

One of the top five reasons for workplace absenteeism is sickness. For many Canadians, this presents an issue as they simply cannot afford to take time off. Even for a doctor’s appointment. An Ipsos survey from 2017 revealed that over 50 percent of Canadians are within $200 a month of “not being able to pay all their bills or meet their debt obligations.” 

Furthermore, “Canada’s absenteeism rates are high by international standards,” especially when compared with studies in the U.S and U.K. With such high rates, it’s easy to see why absenteeism costs Canada billions of dollars a year—and decreased workplace performance. 


Absenteeism’s impact on workplace productivity 

Absenteeism can have trickle down and trickle up effects in your workplace. The Society for Human Resource Management conducted a survey showing that absent employees impact co-workers and managers by increasing the workload of those around and directly supervising them. Conversely, if managers are frequently absent, it can mean lower productivity for their employees and the entire company. 

Forbes reported on a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey that broke down the annual cost of lost productivity by job type. Among those included were managers and executives costing $15.7 billion annually in loss and service workers at $8.5 billion. As well as clerical and office workers at $8.1 billion, sales at $6.8 billion, and business owners at $2 billion. The cost deficit was due to several things such as cost for replacement workers, administrative fees, reduced productivity, and poor morale. 

If all of this sounds much too familiar, it may be time to introduce your employees to telemedicine. 


Telemedicine’s unique services

According to a study by the Affiliated Workers Associated, 70 percent of doctor’s visits could have taken place over the phone. The other 30 percent require in-person testing and care that cannot be replaced by any virtual system. However, improving your efficiency by 70 percent sounds pretty good to us. Telemedicine companies like Lumeca are disrupting the entire healthcare industry. Virtual healthcare’s on-demand nature helps users get on the road to recovery faster than checking into a doctor’s office. 

For example, Lumeca offers consultations and diagnoses for many common ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, cold, fever, flu, headaches, and mental health. Employees can have their symptoms diagnosed and treated much more quickly so they can focus on what matters most. After all, who wouldn’t want to spend less time being sick and more time being productive?

As an employer, you likely know all too well the dance you have to make around employee appointments and illnesses. With telehealth, this could be a simpler scenario. For example, imagine an employee needs an hour off for their annual exam. The next afternoon they go back for bloodwork, and a third to hear the results. Finally, if there are any complications, they’ll have time-intensive specialist visits and follow-ups to juggle. Telehealth could potentially solve all of this with one to two virtual meetings. 

For instance, Cisco’s Global Customer Experience Report in 2013 revealed that 74% of participants were open to a virtual doctor visit. This trend has been on the rise in the almost seven years that have followed. For those employees in more rural locations, telemedicine can further reduce the need to be absent. Care that would typically take a full or half-day takes only minutes.


How telemedicine combats absenteeism

Telehealth is a system that prevents illness and encourages a healthy mental state, making your employees more productive and efficient. 

The biggest argument for telehealth is its ability to “replace in-person office visits for acute care,” as well as reduce overall cost of care. A recent survey found telehealth’s 24/7 availability made for even distribution of these services throughout the week. If your employees have the option to schedule a healthcare visit whenever they need to, they will be more likely to do so outside of work hours. Thereby reducing their need to be absent. 

The same survey found the most common diagnoses included sinusitis (20%), cold, flu, and pertussis (12%), and bladder infection/urinary tract infection (6%). The vendors surveyed “reported that they were able to resolve a patient’s issues during the telehealth visits approximately 83 percent of the time.” Of the 83 percent, 60 percent were resolved with a prescription. For your employees, this could reduce their recovery time significantly and equal more time (and more productive time) at work. 

Plus, a recent study found that 71% of Canadians were willing to switch their current plans for virtual health, and 2 in 3 Canadians “would use virtual care if it was provided in their employee benefit plan.”

 Give the people what they want, we say. 


Telehealth and mental health 

Of the reasons your employees miss work, mental health is one of the most common. AXA PPP Healthcare found employees are more likely to miss work for anxiety (25%) than the common cold (23%). These common excuses for missed work can have a significant impact on workplace performance, as you well know. 

A virtual doctor’s visit can relatively quickly address symptoms of the flu and the common cold. However, depression, stress, and anxiety are much more complicated. The signs of mental health issues or distress may be harder to see as an employer. Yet these are equally important to address for your workers’ well-being and productivity. 

Recent data shows that 1 in 5 adults in Canada and the US struggle with their mental health. That comes to almost 49 million people in North America. If we break the statistic down further, depression accounts for 48% of lost productive time (LPT) in the workplace. The same study also found health conditions like migraines, lower back pain, diabetes, and allergic rhinitis account for time and money lost. 


There, but not really

When mental health impacts the workplace, we use the term  presenteeism, which means employees are physically at the workplace but “unable to function at capacity.” Like absenteeism, presenteeism can tank workplace performance and cost companies big bucks. David Gallson of Mood Disorders Society of Canada said presenteeism costs the country $6 billion annually with loss of productivity three times higher than absenteeism. 

Virtual health systems using telepsychiatry can address several issues related to mental health. Psychiatry.org lists the benefits of telehealth and mental health as improved access to care, fewer trips to the emergency room, reduced need for time off, the convenience of appointments (and reduced travel time), and the reduced stigma. 

At Lumeca, our mental health providers offer online video therapy to address anxiety, depression, eating disorders, stress, substance abuse, and work problems. Users can pay per 60-minute session with a registered psychologist or therapist at their convenience. A feat that is impossible with most traditional therapy offices that work within the 8 am to 5 pm timeframe. 

The improved mental health of your employees benefits your entire company—from morale to savings. 


Telehealth prevention and treatment 

What if your employees didn’t need sick days, because the didn’t get sick in the first place? Telemedicine also helps to boost workplace performance and workplace efficiency by focusing on prevention and treatment. The medical advice, prescriptions, labs, and referrals that doctors can give via chat, phone, or video call make telemedicine a convenient option for anyone. No matter what hours your employees are on the clock. 

Unfortunately, traditional healthcare systems are stuck in a ‘sick care’ model where healthcare focuses on treatment rather than prevention. Much of the current research regarding telehealth and prevention looks at specific diseases such as diabetes and coronary heart disease. 

The Rural Health Information Hub found that telemedicine saved diabetes patients time and money while providing self-management support. If your employees have a chronic condition like diabetes, telemedicine empowers them to more conveniently manage their care. 

Similar to chronic conditions, telemedicine also aides in the prevention of common ailments like cold, flu, or migraines. Plus, the continued management of mental health can prevent presenteeism and absenteeism. 


Healthy employees equal happier employees. 

When you feel good, you perform better. One Lumeca user, Katarina Rogina, put it this way: “Offering Lumeca for my staff makes our team healthier, happier, and more efficient. With access to doctors 24/7/365 within minutes, it greatly reduces absenteeism. Lumeca’s business membership also includes employee families, which I find is extremely valuable as a mother of 5.” 

For families and companies across Canada,  access to immediate and professional healthcare is invaluable. Especially to those who are balancing work and home responsibilities. 

Virtual medicine can help employees take control of their mental and physical health by making visits accessible from the convenience of their home or even during a break at work. The benefits have a ripple effect on employee’s overall health and happiness and work performance. 

Let’s say one of your top employees has been complaining of frequent and intense headaches, which has put productivity behind. Because you’ve recently provided telemedicine for your employees, you suggest they try it out. While speaking with a physician, the employee uncovers other areas of his or her life that need improvements such as diet, exercise, and more regular teletherapy visits. All this takes place without your employee missing a single hour of work. This demonstrates how pinpointing ailments can be a catalyst to positive mental and physical health changes that crossover to work life. 


Offering telemedicine can help recruit and retain top talent

David Willows, VP of Strategic Market Solutions at Green Shield Canada, made the following point: “‘A motivated employee will show up to work even if she feels slightly under the weather, unlike the one who is always looking for an excuse to leave. This is where you see the difference that measures targeting physical and mental well-being can have on human capital.’”

Professional telehealth plans present an affordable healthcare option for employers to give their employees. For example, on our site, you can use our calculator to estimate how much your business could potentially save each year on health insurance for your employees. You can do so by entering the number of employees, average annual income, and hours missed due to medical visits. Time is money, after all. 

In all, telemedicine can significantly reduce employee absenteeism and boost workplace performance. You set your entire team up for success when you help them manage their care and prevent future illness. Your company is, after all, only as healthy as its employees.