During this presentation, our Co-Founder, Phil Daniels, and our panel of experts reviewed survey results in partnership with EHIR (Employer Health Innovation Roundtable) and CMO OnDemand to provide perspective from previous experience:

Is there any experience from your career that is similar to what employers and the market are facing with this current pandemic?

“I do not believe anyone has experienced anything quite like this. Certainly, what comes to mind is 9/11 in the US, and other global events such as the tsunamis in Asia. However, these events were localized and a single point-in-time. The thing that is so different for us now is this pandemic is prolonged and insidious. There’s no playbook in terms of how to prepare for what’s coming at us. The best thing we can do is make the best decisions possible with the data that we have available.” - Lisa Uthgenannt

What resources should employers be leveraging throughout their response to COVID-19 and how should they handle "Return to Work" procedures?

"People want data and information from a reliable resource, especially if an organization doesn't have access to internal medical resources. A few sources to obtain reliable information that I'd suggest include the CDC, Shoreland Travax, and CIDRAP." - Dr. Fariss

When addressing how employers should navigate their employees returning to work, Dr. Fariss highlights that while employers may have these plans already built, many of them will have to revisit these policies. Organizations are currently working through multiple scenarios, such as those with confirmed cases, members who did not receive a test but have a presumed case, or someone who is presumed to be exposed.

The CDC has some guidelines to ease this transition, and Dr. Fariss mentions their recommendation for those who are symptom-free and have a negative test (if available) twice, they can be cleared from home quarantine and return to work. Additionally, he highlights the CDC's recommendations for the non-test method when a test is not available, but someone is thought to be positive for COVID-19. In this scenario, they must be symptom-free for 72 hours and seven days out from the onset of any signs before returning to work.

With a shift to employees working from home and many doctors turning away patients, what do you envision the long-term health impacts to be?

In our survey conducted in collaboration with EHIR and CMO OnDemand, 56% of survey respondents stated their organization has shifted to a mandatory work-from-home policy. With over half of the 150 organizations surveyed now fully-remote for the time being, Dr. Fariss discusses the impact this shift could have on chronic conditions.

"When an individual is diagnosed with a chronic condition, this elevates risk substantially. In fact, a vast majority of those with a fatal case of COVID-19 have had more than one comorbid condition. While we're trying to minimize non-essential medical visits, if your doctor needs to see you to treat your chronic condition, you should continue with these essential visits." - Dr. Fariss

Dr. Fariss also highlights the opportunity organizations have to use telemedicine. This solution empowers workforces to maintain social distancing and still receive excellent care. While telemedicine is not a new form of care, it's a tool that can be used to augment it.

"Telemedicine technology has been available for years, but an event like this really raises awareness. I think telemedicine will forever be escalated in terms of importance; it's already played an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 patients." - Dr. Fariss

How have you managed sudden and urgent plan changes throughout your career?

Uthgenannt recalls previous events when economic downturns have become an issue and have required her to make plan changes mid-year. She emphasizes that chasing the financial savings of this is not enough. As organizations look at different scenarios playing out, it's essential to understand if there are any unintended consequences from the decisions you'll be making.

"Right now, it is about relentless communication around why the decisions are being made, what the decisions are, and what actions need to be taken as a result. This way, your employees feel included and engaged. Everyone will know what is going on, and will provide a backdrop to why certain decisions have to be made." - Uthgenannt

Over the coming months, benefits plans and HR leaders will be highlighted more than ever. How should employers and consultants prepare for these conversations as we head into the second half of 2020 and 2021?

"From a benefits plan perspective, we spend so much time benchmarking. I would say given this pandemic, all bets are off. There will need to be new benchmarks, as everyone reviews their plans. We'll need to identify what it means to be competitive in this new environment. Not only do we need to look at tactics to alleviate the revenue pressure, but we need to be making responsible decisions. It goes back to understanding balance – what does your organization need to do to ensure financial stability, but also what needs to be done to ensure we're prepared moving forward in an environment where this sort of pandemic could very well happen again." - Uthgenannt

Additionally, when preparing for the trickle-down impact of COVID-19 on benefits plans, Brock Anderson highlights that employers and consultants will need to evaluate this from a scenario perspective. When looking at workforce and talent planning, employers will need to consider and focus on business-critical tasks. As managers plan for the coming months, this may require them to identify what are the essential functions that need to be accomplished, and how to work with their teams to do so.