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How can employers prepare for a tsunami of delayed diagnosis?

The COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges and questions about how to address neglected healthcare caused by the pandemic. To start a conversation addressing some of these issues, the Connecticut Health Council (CHC), an initiative of the MetroHartford Alliance (MHA), hosted an informative webinar on June 2, 2021.

The panel discussion, moderated by Harvey Kaufman, MD, MBA, FCAP, Senior Medical Director at Quest Diagnostics, featured:

  • Eric Daigle, Head of People & Culture, Laz Parking
  • Robert Kosior, Senior Vice President, Pharmacy and Medical Cost, ConnectiCare & EmblemHealth
  • Kate McEvoy, Director of the Division of Health Services, Connecticut Department of Social Services
  • Roberta (Bert) Wachtelhausen, President at WellSpark Health

MHA President and CEO David Griggs kicked off the event on a celebratory note announcing the appointment of Dawn Johnson as the new CHC Executive Director, effective immediately.

Barry Simon, CHC Board Chair and President of Oak Hill echoed the exciting news. “The CHC is a group of sector leaders who work together to promote Connecticut as a premiere center of excellence,” he said. “Certainly, having her in that role is going to help us to achieve our mission.”

The Future Of Telehealth

Dr. Harvey Kaufman, Senior Medical Director at Quest Diagnostics, gave a brief presentation about public health insights based on Quest Diagnostics data that answered questions about how we work, and play, and how we address the neglected healthcare that’s happened during the pandemic. He then launched into topical questions about the current state of healthcare, beginning with asking what’s next for telemedicine.

Acknowledging the rapid uptake, Kate McEvoy, Director of the Division of Health Services, Connecticut Department of Social Services, recognized that there is a call to action for all of us and said she’s “grateful for provider willingness.”

Robert Kosior, Senior Vice President, Pharmacy and Medical Cost, ConnectiCare & EmblemHealth underscored that “telehealth is absolutely critical,” noting that it’s been around prior to pandemic. He spoke about various audio and video options available to patients and knowing when an in-person versus telehealth visit is appropriate.

Mental Health Matters

Harvey questioned the panelists about the topic of mental health—social isolation, depression, and anxiety—and how to address the acute need in 2021.

WellSpark Health takes a “bio/psycho/social approach, which creates a total health view,” said President Roberta (Bert) Wachtelhausen. As an employer, if you’re not taking total health into account, employees benefits will fall short, she added. “A tsunami of mental health issues are coming. Employers need to encourage an incentivize employees to get screenings,” Bert said.

There are tools in an employee benefits toolbox for an employer, she explained, questioning: Are those tools in toolbox working for you? And, post-pandemic is the toolset effective? Is it working? What to do with employees without benefits?

“It’s a fragmented benefits landscape,” Bert said. “Where is the social aspect—beyond the employee assistance program. Are people using it?”

With regard to behavioral health, Robert noted that there was a fast transition to virtual, “We’re seeing that sustained,” he noted, but “what does this hold in future? I don’t think we’ll go back to the traditional definition of telehealth,” he added. “There will be more flexibility.”

Laz Parking Head of People & Culture Eric Daigle pointed out that programs often aren’t tailored to employees’ needs, noting that Laz Parking offers personalized wellness programs to employees. “One-size-fits-all doesn’t support the future in a post-pandemic world,” he said.

Eric explained how Laz Parking has incentivized employees to get mental health screenings by offering lower premiums if employees completed annual exams and they’re beginning to see significant decrease on spend. They’re also beginning to see flattening of curve relative to chronic issues and costs associated, he added.

Innovative Approaches

Innovation and healthcare during and post pandemic were also addressed. Harvey brought up the example of Quest, Walmart, and Drone Up collaborating to deliver COVID-19 test kits to those who couldn’t safely leave their houses during the height of the pandemic. He questioned what other innovations are on the horizon, particularly with pharmacies expanding their health services. “How do they play in this new world?”

According to Robert, pharmacies have added value. During the pandemic, the role of pharmacist has emerged as trusted healthcare advisor because people have had less access to physicians, he explained. Another added benefit is some pharmacists have ability to prescribe.

Robert also acknowledged the value of so many brick-and-mortar locations. “They’re everywhere. They’re a convenient access point,” he said, noting many pharmacies are innovating and expanding services, like CVS Minute Clinic.

Our access to these types of innovations existed before COVID, he pointed out. “How do we continue to increase access? Those pharmacies will be an important asset going forward,” he said.

Addressing Racial Disparities

Challenges surrounding racial disparities are another key issue in healthcare. Harvey questioned how to recognize and respond going forward.

Kate talked about the importance of acknowledging longstanding issues in our healthcare system—understanding and capturing in data about what is occurring. “Starting from a data premise is essential,” she said. “Then we can examine gaps in care and call out areas in need of intervention. We must not wait for areas in need to approach us,” Kate emphasized.

Eric drew attention to the employer perspective. “Educating the employee base about benefits in a simplistic way has become critical to counteract racial disparities,” he said, adding that effective communication is key—with frequent, not just yearly, information sessions.

Future Plans

In the last minutes of the webinar, the panelists’ final question concerned what their organizations will do in the future.

Kate noted that the Connecticut Department of Social Services is “reform-minded.”

“The focus for ConnectiCare & EmblemHealth is leveling the playing field in term of access,” replied Robert.

Eric responded that Laz Parking will be providing quicker access to care and education as well as broadening and increasing eligibility.

Finally, Roberta said that WellSpark will focus on “employers as change agents.”

In his closing remarks, David noted, “This is a situation that is unique in our time. I appreciate the panelists’ insight in helping us understand what we have to look forward to.”

Watch the Connecticut Health Council: The Hidden Epidemic:


Mark your calendar and join the Connecticut Health Council, on September 9 at 9:00 a.m. for our next webinar The Health and Financial Impact of Obesity.