Employer Health Plans Must Adjust to a Hybrid Workforce

Employer Health Plans Must Adjust to a Hybrid Workforce

Stereotypes largely hold true. They form the basis of insurance companies, which correlate a dollar amount to the likelihood of something happening.

For example, patients with autoimmune medical conditions pay more in monthly premiums because they are likely to require more medical care than those without such conditions. And with more care comes more cost. But cost is never cost alone in healthcare.

It is intimately tied to patient behavior, specifically the patterns of decisions that lead certain patients to be more compliant with their treatment compared to others who frequent the emergency department more than their primary care physician.

These decisions characterize patient behavior. When decisions change, so does the behavior. And as more people return to a post-pandemic workforce, redesigned in a hybrid model that includes fewer days in the office and more at home, people’s professional behavior will change – because their daily decisions will change.

The tyranny of the nine-to-five no longer maintains its grip on families. Parents are no longer rushing to get their kids ready for school and beating the morning traffic to work. The work schedule appears to be more accommodating. Most see this as a good thing.

For the most part, it is. But a few studies – mostly of labor markets outside of the United States – that have analyzed the quality of life and productivity of workers who shifted to at-home work during the pandemic found mixed results. They found working from home and all its presumed benefits were not evenly distributed among gender, age, and educational levels. Some benefited while others did not.

In Australia, quality of life improved in 17.5 percent of the workforce, but decreased in 20.7 percent. Perceived productivity at work increased in 12.7 percent, but decreased in 30.2 percent. It seems that every presumed benefit comes with its own set of downside risks, or unintended consequences – many of which are not foreseeable until they manifest later on.

These risks affect job productivity and overall quality life – impacting both the employer and the employee. They form out of shifts in decisions that lead to differences in behavior that produce clinically significant disparities, with some benefiting while others not so much.

Employee health plans must proactively address these risks. They can leverage innovations developed for other patient populations and incorporate them into their health plans. This includes readily accessible telemedicine services, peripheral health monitoring, and increased access to behavioral health services.

The pandemic made it clear that for every change in a person’s life, however subtle it may appear to be, we see profound and unpredictable changes in behavior. We knew lockdowns would increase isolation, but we did not anticipate the rampant mental health crises. These effects are the accumulation of decisions ingrained into a person’s behavior over time. They are neither easy to predict nor immediately obvious at first. But they produce catastrophic consequences if allowed to go unchecked.

Employers should be keen to avoid the mistakes of near-sighted pandemic policies when structuring employee health plans. They must recognize that the perceived benefits of work flexibility come with its own set of risks, which affect different employees in unique ways.

When the behavior of employees change, the health plan should accommodate accordingly, preemptively addressing all potential risks – obvious or not. Otherwise it will deal with the storms of unintended consequences that increase costs of care and decrease work productivity.

To address these unforeseen risks, employee health plans must actively engage with its workforce, especially those working peripherally. This requires long-term monitoring of employees as though they were high risk patients with multiple comorbidities, and incorporating added patient engagement into the model of care.

Check in from time to time to assess the mental health of employees, offer clinical services proactively rather than implementing them retroactively in cases of clinical emergencies. Observe patterns of stress that may not yet manifest in their work or personal life. These are the concerning cloud formations that lead to turbulent storms. They may appear differently, but overall the effects are uniformly devastating.

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