Telemedicine for Corporate America: Addressing Mental Health Concerns Caused by the Coronavirus
Uncertain times amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic are affecting people both personally and professionally. Stress, anxiety or fear associated with disease outbreak can inflict changes on sleep or eating patterns, impaired concentration, worsening of chronic or mental health problems or increased use of alcohol or drugs (CDC). Employers should consider the workforce implications associated with mental health concerns and an alternative option for those seeking treatment during this time.
Online publications and social media channels are inundated with ideas for successfully working from home among the chaos of balancing work and personal tasks; for example, Forbes suggests keeping your attitude in check and creating boundaries for your workspace, and Science Magazine encourages readers to learn new skills or revisit hobbies. While good-intentioned, these suggestions do not provide necessary support to those living with addiction or those in recovery. Developing a ‘new normal’ while distancing and isolating may be even more difficult when facing behavioral health issues, which in turn can affect work-from-home productivity. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom researched working from home for many years prior to the current health crisis. His research suggests that “an extended period of working from home will not only kill office productivity but is building a mental health crisis” (Stanford News). It is critical to address mental health issues and those facing addiction during this ambiguous and stressful climate.
Fortunately, employers do have an option to provide behavioral health treatment to employees who need it now more than ever via telehealth. Also known as telemedicine, telehealth allows for outpatient behavioral healthcare via phone, video chat or other online resources. Through a digital device, people currently living with addiction or those in recovery who may be vulnerable to relapse are able to speak with doctors. A doctor’s reach can extend far beyond the doors of his or her office, and people who are seeking professional input can do so from the comfort of their own homes. This is particularly important for people living in rural or underprivileged communities where face-to-face healthcare services are not an option. It can also help overcome barriers to care such as stigmas around behavioral and mental health, opinions of others, or costs of traveling to a provider (Addiction Center).
Key reasons employers should consider telehealth for their employees:
- Increase employee morale and retention. By offering telehealth online counseling, employees can feel confidence and ownership in their ability to address behavioral health concerns – no matter the global circumstances – with the support of their employer.
- Safeguard productivity. Telehealth capabilities can help those seeking treatment to develop a routine that allows for productive work output while addressing behavioral health concerns with medical professionals.
- Avoid lost profit and increased costs associated with sick leave. Investing in telehealth delivers the necessary care now that can curb the monetary side effects of employees on sick leave later.
Telehealth is currently considered underutilized in substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation centers (Health Recovery Solutions). Prioritize long-term employee health and wellness by implementing this accessible, relevant approach to behavioral healthcare services in the workplace.