What to look for in a Virtual Health Care Solution

The pandemic has brought health and wellbeing into the spotlight. Employees are now looking for more from employers than salary alone. A LifeWorks study reported that 77% of employees would leave their current job for an employer that provided better mental health and wellbeing benefits. 60% of employees said they were more likely to leave their current employer if they were offered less money but better support for personal well-being. This trend was seen even among those reporting high financial stress (51%).

Many employers are adding virtual health to their group benefits package. Virtual health can help access care, reduce wait times for care, and reduce employee’s time away from work. Telus Health reports 70% of virtual appointments take place during the workday and 85% of health concerns are resolved without and in-person visit.

The below are some elements of virtual health services to consider when evaluating the various offerings.

Quick and convenient

For many Canadians, their first point of contact with health professionals has been virtual during COVID-19. Benefits Canada reported that a poll conducted by Abacus Data between May 14 and 17, 2020, found those who’ve connected with their doctor virtually during the pandemic reported a 91% satisfaction rate — 17 points higher than in-person emergency room visits.

A virtual care service that employees can access health care in a timely, convenient fashion lets employees deal with health and wellbeing concerns quickly and efficiently. Some virtual health care services even offer prescription management and delivery which provides even more convenience.

Continuity of Care and Human Interaction

The ability of virtual health practitioners to access patient history from previous virtual health care visits will provide better service to patients and more complete care. Some virtual healthcare services also coordinate with the family physician if the patient would like.

Mercer Marsh Benefits found that the most common concern among employees who were hesitant to try digital health services was a lack of human attention. Virtual Health Care should be a combination of technology and human interactions.

In a Benefits Canada article, Dr. Dominik Nowak, family physician and Chair of the TELUS Medical Advisory Council said “Virtual should never mean less personal,”. “Whether that moment of care is in-person or through a screen, it’s our responsibility as health professionals to build the trust that is essential to quality care, co-design a treatment plan based on the individual’s values and needs and ensure that plan has continuity with their existing links to the health system.”

As virtual care becomes more widespread, the use of digital platforms and finding ways to create connections to patients virtually is becoming part of many healthcare professionals’ skill set. Encouraging virtual connections with patients will ease the worry that a virtual experience will lose the in-office experience. In person care will still be needed for some health concerns but in the future, virtual care services will be a beneficial accompaniment to existing health care.

“Our goal is to empower working Canadians with improved access to secure, quality care because we know that healthy employees perform better at work,” says Daniel Martz, vice president, virtual care, TELUS Health. “Through our virtual care service, employees and their families can receive compassionate, holistic care where and when they need it. Providing a virtual care experience with genuine human connections has become an essential part of managing health during the pandemic and we expect it to remain vital for years to come.” (source: Benefits Canada)

Virtual Health care is providing employers with an ability to provide a competitive advantage, fostering a culture of well-being. This will help set employers apart and enable them to build a more engaged, productive, and loyal workforce.

Newswire “Morneau Shepell finds employees would accept lower pay for enhanced well-being support”

Benefits Canada “Canadians cite 91 satisfaction rate with virtual health care survey”

Mercer “2020 Health on Demand Canada Report”

Benefits Canada “Holistic personal care. What to look for in a virtual care service for your employees”

Social isolation is taking a toll on Canadians’ mental health

In a survey conducted by Sun Life, over half of Canadians surveyed (56%) said COVID-19 is having a negative impact on their mental health, with social isolation the top contributing factor.

The survey reveals COVID-19 is having a greater negative impact on the mental health of women (62%) compared to men (49%). As to what Canadians feel is contributing to their mental health challenges, a majority cite social isolation (66%).

Other factors that are having an impact include:
1. Concern for loved ones (57%)
2. Fear of contracting COVID-19 (56%)
3. Financial concerns (51%)

Close to 60% of Canadians whose mental health has been negatively impacted said they are not receiving treatment or social support. When they were asked what barriers were stopping them from receiving support for their mental health, they listed:
1. I can’t afford it (22%)
2. I don’t know where to go or who to ask for help (17%)
3. I am embarrassed to ask for help (12%)

“During the pandemic people are feeling a mix of emotions including anxiety, stress, fear and nervousness,” said Dr. Sam Mikail, Director, Mental Health Solutions, Sun Life. “It’s important to listen to your body, understand how you’re feeling and reach out for help. Connecting with a friend or family is a great first step. But don’t hesitate to seek professional advice. There are many resources either through your employee benefits or free in the community that can help you manage your mental health. We’re all in this together.”

Dr. Mikail offers the following advice for Canadians to help manage their mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Look to see what extended health care benefits your employer offers, including Employee and Family Assistance Programs.
2. Take advantage of free platforms such as Lumino Health, a tool that helps you search for trusted health care providers and offers health related resources.
3. If you are living alone and are not physically vulnerable, be sure to get out at least once a day while following the recommended precautions.
4. If you are living with other family members, give yourself permission to set some time for yourself. We all need some alone time.
5. Stay connected to your support network using virtual technology and be honest about how you’re feeling.

Source: Sun Life, More than half of Canadians experiencing mental health issues during COVID-19

RAMQ Changes

Due to recent regulatory changes in Quebec, RAMQ will begin to pay for some pharmacy services effective immediately.

What’s changing?
Some services that remain covered by Group plans will now be covered at 100% coinsurance, regardless of the level of reimbursement provided for in their plan. See below for the list of these services in addition, the list of new pharmacy services now covered.

Services covered 100% by private plans
· Change in drug therapy
· Therapeutic substitutions
· Post hospitalization care management service (New)
· Prescription of a drug
· Administering a drug to demonstrate its appropriate use

New services now covered by the RAMQ
· Emergency administration of certain drugs
· Initiation a drug therapy (including emergency oral contraception)
· Adjusting medication to meet therapeutic goals
· Modification of a drug therapy
· Assessment to extend a prescription and its extension
· Palliative care management service
· Request a consultation with another health professional

For additional information visit the RAMQ website

RAMQ is responsible for the sound management of the Québec Health Insurance Plan and of the Public Prescription Drug Insurance Plan. As part of its mission, it manages the eligibility of persons for the plans, monitors the remuneration of health professionals and facilitates access to health care.

2021 Quebec Drug Insurance Pooling Update

Every year, the Quebec Drug Insurance Pooling Corporation (also referred to as the Société
de compensation en assurance médicaments du Québec) revises the Quebec group
insurance pooling terms and conditions.

All group insurers in Quebec contribute to a pooling plan that protects private sector plan
sponsors against the financial impact of large claims for drug costs. Based on pooling results
for previous years, the Quebec Drug Insurance Pooling Corporation submitted a report to
Quebec’s Health and Social Services minister. The report details 2021 pooling parameters
and has been approved by all industry members.

The new pooling levels and fees will be applied to renewal calculations that involve Quebec plan members.

Terms and conditions and pooling parameters from http://mutualisation.ca/en/pooling/terms-and-conditions-of-pooling/

2020 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey Highlights

Sanofi Canada’s 2020 healthcare survey regarding health benefit plans has been completed. Sanofi Canada surveys both plan members and plan sponsors. The survey took place in January/ February of 2020 and while it was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, many highlights remain relevant.


Wellness ranked high as an important factor when deciding on a job offer or remaining at an organization. 75% of plan sponsors planned to invest in health and wellness areas outside of the benefit plan in the next 3 years. This included mental health, prevention of illness/ management of chronic health conditions, physical fitness, social and financial well-being.

Pre-pandemic, mental health was an important focus for plan sponsors and this will be even more so now, as stress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic affects employees. The survey found that younger employees reported higher levels of stress and they are more likely to require time off from work as a result.

Adding Flexibility to Health Plans

82% of plan members would like to have a health spending account as part of their health benefit plan. Both plan members and plan sponsors are interested in greater flexibility from their health plans.

Focussing on Non-adherence to Prescribed Medicine

If employees are not taking their prescribed medication or not taking it correctly, it can have significant health consequences. Many plan members would prefer to use virtual care to renew prescriptions. It is easy to see how even more people would prefer to renew prescriptions virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many insurance providers also have initiatives that support adherence that members and plan sponsors can take advantage of.

Virtual Health Care

When the survey was taken 71% of plan members were interested in using virtual care technology to receive healthcare services. It is easy to imagine that this number would increase with the current COVID-19 pandemic situation.

The 2020 Sanofi Canada healthcare survey offers interesting insight into what both plan members and plan sponsors are looking for from their group benefit plans. You can read the detailed report at Sanofi Canada

Source: Sanofi Canada

How employers can support employees during COVID-19 with Virtual Health

The Coronavirus is causing uncertainty for both employers and employees. Employers need to help their employees through this difficult time and there are steps they can take to support workers.

Plan for absences

It is possible that some employees may become sick, and even more will be worried and wanting to self-isolate. Employers need to consider employees who cannot work because they are in quarantine or who are not able to work as they need to care for others for example due to school closures.

While it may not work for all organizations, employers should consider work from home options for employees whenever possible. Employees also need to be secure in knowing they are able to take sick leave without financial hardship. The federal government has promised to provide changes to EI to support workers through this.

Offer Virtual Health

Now is the time to invest in employee health and wellbeing. It is natural that employees are experiencing higher levels of anxiety and depression in this time which can affect productivity. Virtual health care can support employees while reducing the strain on the health-care system as virtual health does not require employees to visit the doctor in person.

Virtual health-care benefits are critical at this time. In a recent survey, Mercer found 70 per cent of emergency room visits could be replaced with virtual consultations without any reduction in quality of care. (source: Benefits Canada )

Employee Communication

It is vital that employers provide frequent updates to employees as employees look to their employer as a trusted source of information.

Providing information on services available to employees, for example how to access their Employee Assistance Program or other policies that support employees during this time is helpful.

Coronavirus has created significant economic uncertainty. Those close to retirement will be worried about their investments as they see the news coming from the financial markets. Employers can help employees feel supported by providing communications around financial wellness.

The most important thing employers can do is to communicate to their employees what actions they have taken to support them and keep them updated. This will help employees feel supported by their employer during this time.

Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19

The situation around COVID-19 is changing rapidly and new updates continue to emerge. Please also review the best practices put out by Health Canada which can be found at: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection/prevention-risks.html

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a flu-like virus identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China and since reported in cities around the world. New cases are emerging globally. For your reference, we have attached the Getting Your Workplace Ready for COVID-19 communication from the World Health Organization. This information can be found at: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/getting-workplace-ready-for-covid-19.pdf

Quebec Drug Insurance Pooling Update 2020

Every year, the Quebec Drug Insurance Pooling Corporation (QDIPC) reviews the terms and conditions for the high-cost pooling system in the province. Based on its latest review, QDIPC is revising its pooling levels and fees for 2020 to reflect trends in the volume of claims submitted to the pool, particularly catastrophic claims.

The new pooling levels and fees will be applied to renewal calculations that involve Quebec plan members.

Court Decision: When does Employer’s duty to accommodate end?

A recent decision by the Ontario Divisional Court has outlined that an employer’s duty to accommodate ends when an employee’s disability becomes permanent and as a result, the contract of employment cannot be upheld.

The case – Katz v. Clarke

Mr. Clarke (the employee), was employed as a Front Store Manager at a pharmacy owned by the Katz Group (“Katz”) where Mr. Clarke had been employed for approximately 13 years at the time of termination.   However, he had been off work on a leave of absence for over five years.

Mr. Clarke had been approved for short-term disability, followed by long-term disability.

Great-West Life (the disability insurer) advised the employer (Katz) that based on medical information, Mr. Clarke was not able to perform the essential duties of his position and there was no reasonable expectation that he would be able to perform them in the foreseeable future. Based on this, Katz advised Mr. Clarke that his employment had been frustrated due to his prolonged absence from work, his inability to perform the duties of his position and the lack of reasonable expectation that he would be able to return to perform the duties of his position in the foreseeable future.

Mr. Clarke’s legal counsel advised the employer that Mr. Clarke was “working very hard to get well so that he can return to his former employment and perform the essential duties of his position”, the employer provided Mr. Clarke with the opportunity to provide updated medical information outlining his projected return to work date. Mr. Clarke failed to provide this information and Mr. Clarke’s employment was terminated due to frustration of contract.

Mr. Clarke commenced an action against Katz of wrongful dismissal and damages under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Katz moved for summary judgement to have the claim dismissed. The motion judge dismissed this motion for summary judgement.

The motion judge noted that Katz was aware of Mr. Clarke’s desire to return to full employment and it was arguable that Katz’s failure to spend time and effort to explore with Mr. Clarke how his desire to return to work could be accommodated resulted in a “rush to judgment” that breached the Code.

Katz appealed the decision to the Ontario Divisional Court.

The Ontario Divisional Court overturned the decision of the motion judge, saying that an employer’s duty to accommodate is only triggered when an employee informs an employer not only of their wish to return to work, but also provides evidence of their ability to return to work.
The Court also confirmed that an employer’s duty to accommodate ends where the employee is no longer able to fulfill the basic obligations of the the employment relationship. 

When the employee’s disability is permanent, the employment contract is impossible to uphold and is therefore frustrated. However it can be noted that in this case the employer was successful in establishing frustration of employment after the employee had been absent from work for more than five years.


Katz Group Canada Ltd. v. Clarke, 2019 ONSC 2188, 

Benefits Canada: ‘Inherently impossible’ to accommodate employee unable to work, finds Ontario court

Miller Thomson : Katz et al. v. Clarke: Ontario Divisional Court Upholds Termination of Employee Due to Frustration of Contract

Advica Health : Let’s talk about drug abuse and addiction

We are very pleased to be working with Advica Health to provide virtual health and healthcare navigation. Please contact us for more information. Advica Health’s informative newsletter on the topic of substance abuse is below.

Substance Abuse: A Serious Health Concern That No One Talks About:

Studies are showing that alcohol, pills, recreational drugs, and in a lot of cases a combination of different substances, are omnipresent problems among the population, especially among youth.

There’s a lot of buzz about these issues, but rarely anyone seems to be doing anything of huge value to stop or prevent substance abuse. What’s more, quite a lot of people are not aware that this widespread problem is actually a type of mental disorder.

Why this lack of social consciousness? It mainly has to do with how people actually perceive mental disorders. When one says “mental disorder/illness”, a great number of people instantly think “mad” or “disturbed,” painting a mental picture of someone who’s not exactly in their right mind.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. While there are severe mental disorders that significantly affect one’s behavior, and even rational thinking, the definition of mental disorder actually refers to all conditions that negatively affect one’s mood, behavior, and thinking. This includes depression and anxiety. As well as substance abuse.

How Are Substance Abuse and Mental Health Connected?

Substance abuse and mental disorders are very closely related, but one doesn’t necessarily cause the other. If a person has any kind of mental illness, it doesn’t mean that they are definitely going to start drinking or using drugs.

However, drinking a lot and using drugs may increase the risk of underlying mental disorders. They may also worsen an existing mental health issue. And, of course, if someone already has a mental health disorder, they often do abuse various substances to self-medicate, and try and cope with the problem.

So, it all comes down to both genetics, as well as the way someone thinks and feels. If they perhaps feel depressed, or they’re already at risk of developing any other mental health issue, they turn to substance abuse to alleviate the symptoms. However, they often fall down the rabbit hole and make things worse, even triggering new symptoms.

What Drives Substance Abuse?

There are many causes of substance abuse, but the greatest one seems to be genes. Genetic factors account for 40-60% of a persons’ vulnerability to drug addiction, so genetics has a huge role to play in this.

Other causes include family or relationship problems, stress, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, chronic pain, problems with sleep, poor financial situation, a family history of mental disorders or addiction, traumatic experiences, neglect, or abuse.

Furthermore, there’s peer pressure, which has always been a quite common factor contributing to substance abuse. If a person wants to fit into a friend group, and feel accepted, they may give in to peer pressure, and start using drugs or alcohol.

Last but not least, there’s the desire to try something new, to experiment. But just like all these other causes, this one too comes from a place where a person is suffering for any reason and wants to deal with the problem using various dangerous substances.

Call it escapism, if you will, but it definitely isn’t a way out! It makes both mental health and physical health worse, and it’s a problem that should be effectively dealt with. 

Warning Signs of Substance Abuse

If you’re ever worried that someone you know may have turned to alcohol or drugs for any reason, you should be able to spot the warning signs, so that you can actually help them. The most common telltale signs of substance abuse may include:

  • Drastic changes in behavior (impulsive, volatile, angry)
  • Sudden mood swings and irritability
  • Sudden hyperactivity and euphoria
  • Lack of motivation, energy, and interest
  • Excessive and loud talking or trouble talking
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Drowsiness
  • Twitching or excessive sweating
  • Appetite changes
  • Deterioration of hygiene
  • Difficulty concentrating and coordinating
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Contracted or dilated pupils
  • Watery or glassy, red eyes.

There are definitely more warning signs that you could spot, but you definitely couldn’t miss any of these. They differ from one substance to the next, but being aware of all these will absolutely help you gain a much clearer picture of whether or not someone you know has an alcohol or drug problem.

Can Substance Abuse Be Treated Effectively?

A lot of people are under the assumption that heavy alcohol or drug users can never fully get better. Others think that they need massive willpower to even try to overcome their addiction.

The truth is that substance abuse is a mental disorder that can be treated effectively. Granted, prolonged substance abuse is much more difficult to treat, but it can still be treated.

If you are struggling with substance abuse, and need help getting better, you’re not alone. Reading this is an enormous step forward, but be sure to really ask for help. Talk to your family, because they love you and will certainly do anything to help you. Remember that asking for help doesn’t show weakness. It shows strength. So, don’t hide and think that the problem will go away. Step up, and decide to make a change, but let others support you and offer you a helping hand! 

A former Director of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli is working to end this epidemic and treat people with addictions with kindness, compassion and fairness. In a personal, thoughtful talk, he encourages the millions of Americans in recovery today to make their voices heard and confront the stigma associated with substance use disorders.