8 Important COVID-19 Trends Impacting the Employer Health Industry

Industry leaders should be aware of these trends to help continue to strengthen their workforce and productivity in a post-COVID-19 world

Almost every industry has been impacted by COVID-19. From wearing a mask to using hand sanitizer more frequently, we’ve adopted new hygiene and social practices to help keep ourselves – and others – safe.

Likewise, leaders across many industries have implemented various changes to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 – and the employer health industry is no exception. With these changes come many important trends that industry leaders should be aware of to help continue to strengthen their workforce and productivity in a post-COVID-19 world. Here are eight of those important trends:

Employers are planning ahead for COVID-19 testing.

As employees continue to return to work – and as employers learn how to safely and effectively transition employees back to work – employers are making plans ahead of time to prepare for a case of COVID-19 in their workforce. In fact, COVID-19 testing for employees is currently one of the most requested occupational medicine services across the nation. Employers can – and should – plan ahead so that they aren't caught scrambling in the event of a positive case in their workforce. Employers should have a plan for COVID-19 testing and know how to communicate that plan to others.

Some employer health services have gone virtual.

While some employees have returned to work at a physical worksite or office, many continue to work remotely to help flatten the curve. That means that more telehealth and virtual visit options have become available for a variety of employer health needs. Virtual services, which can include pre-screening for COVID-19 testing, select workers' compensation visits and follow-up visits for more severe workplace injuries, allow employees to get the care they need from the comfort of their own home – at their convenience.

Many employer health providers now offer COVID-19 testing for pre-employment screenings.

Pre-employment screenings often range from a simple drug test to a more in-depth physical exam. More recently, though, many employers are beginning to require candidates take a COVID-19 test as part of a routine pre-employment screening. This shift may result in more asymptomatic testing as employers request that all individuals be pre-screened for COVID-19 before starting a new job.

Services related to COVID-19 continue to expand.

Over the last few months, occupational medicine providers have started standing up on-site clinics across the country to help facilitate temperature checks, COVID-19 screenings and various forms of testing. On-sites are convenient for employers and employees alike because they allow employees to access care on or near their worksite. We expect to see additional employer health services related to COVID-19 continue to grow as employer needs continue to evolve throughout the pandemic.

DOT license and physical requirements have changed (at least temporarily).

Many licensing centers and occupational medicine providers around the nation have reduced operational schedules due to COVID-19. As a result, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has created waivers and new rules that allow drivers to continue to work during the pandemic, including those in need of physicals and updated licenses. As of publication, the FMSCA will continue these exceptions until September 30, 2020.

Many workers’ compensation providers are offering COVID-19 testing.

While the availability of COVID-19 testing differs across states, testing demand has remained steady throughout the pandemic. In light of this, many companies are ensuring that providers who normally perform workers’ compensation visits are also able to perform testing, including return-to-work testing. Whether performed through an urgent care/occupational health provider like MedExpress or an independent provider, COVID-19 testing has proven to be an important resource to have during this pandemic and an essential way to prove value to employers.

Some may struggle with mental health and substance abuse problems.

COVID-19 has caused an unexpected and profound shift in daily life. While we can see this visibly in wearing masks and washing hands, many people have experienced other struggles too, such as the onset of new mental health issues, including substance abuse. Substance abuse problems could cost employers tens of thousands of dollars in productivity loss, absenteeism, presenteeism and workers’ compensation claims, making it an important issue for employers to address. Employers should continue to be attune to their employees’ behavior and work performance, which can often reflect behavior outside the workplace. Employers can consider developing a comprehensive drug policy with managers and other company leaders, remind struggling employees about employee assistance programs and implement a zero-tolerance policy in the workplace by making counseling and addiction rehabilitation mandatory for first-time offenders.

Flu season will likely look a little different.

Even in the midst of a global pandemic, employers should be mindful of flu season, too. Around five to 20 percent of the population gets the flu every year, which equates to about 18 million workers nationally – and a whopping $15 billion in productivity losses. The CDC states that it’s possible to have both COVID-19 and the flu at the same, making flu shots for your employees more important than ever. Not only can flu shots protect others through herd immunity, they also help reduce the chance of hospitalization from the flu. That means health care resources can be reserved for those with severe illness, including COVID-19. Consider sponsoring an on-site flu shot clinic if your employees are actively working on job sites or explain the benefits and importance of getting a flu shot this year to your employees.

As federal and state guidelines continue to evolve during the COVID-19 pandemic, employers should work closely with employer health partners to consider timely, relevant options to keep their workforces safe. Doing so now can help ensure that employees will continue to trust decision-making and feel prepared for future health needs.

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