When feeling under the weather, who wants to get out of bed, drive to the doctor, and sit in the waiting room? No one. That’s why telehealth services have started to become a more common part of employee rewards packages in recent years.
By ‘teleheath,’ we mean the range of remote or virtual physical and mental health services provided through apps and online portals – providing access to care without necessarily visiting a doctor face to face. It follows a succession of services we’ve seen go digital to meet our need for convenience in a busy world.
Still, when AIG Life added telehealth service – Smart Health – for customers in August 2019, they knew the numerous benefits wouldn’t necessarily speak for themselves. Despite offering the convenience of 24/7 GP access, second opinion services and counselling, there are numerous barriers to adoption for benefits packages. Sue Helmont, Marketing Director at AIG Life, oversaw an external marketing campaign to make existing customers aware of the free new service and what was in it for them. Uptake was positive, with glowing accounts of personal experiences, such as this one:
‘After my consultation, the doctor advised that I not wait to go to the A&E as he suspected deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Sure enough, scans and tests established that I did indeed have a DVT and I am now being treated for it. I just wanted to thank the doctor, and so express my appreciation for this facility. I'm not sure in the current circumstances with COVID that I would have made the necessary effort to speak with or see my own GP.’ — patient testimonial.
Often, external marketing campaigns don’t make the successful transition to internal communications. This one did.
The old saying ‘The cobbler’s children don’t have shoes’ is often applied to internal resources for employees. AIG Life didn’t fall into that trap. They wanted each and every one of their employees signed up to the service.
Benefits programs offered by employers often get surprisingly low adoption by employees. With many competing initiatives from so many parts of the business, internal communication teams cannot always promote each benefit the way they ideally would in a world with no attentional constraints.
Lindsay Kohler, Lead Behavioural Scientist at scarlettabbott, explains some of the other barriers to adoption. ‘We are hard-wired to prefer things that benefit us now, rather in the future. It’s why we prefer junk food to a salad, and why encouraging people to save for their pensions can be so difficult. Signing up in advance for health services face the same challenge: there’s no immediate win or driving reason to do so. That has to be considered when promoting telehealth.’
Natalie Franklin, Internal Communications Lead at AIG Life, didn’t want that to happen. She took a page out of the external marketing campaign and adapted it to her internal audience. ‘For example, the fact that we did an advert in The Metro newspaper, promoting Smart Health to our customers externally, gave us a good hook for our employees. The benefits are two-fold: you’re informing employees what you’re doing for your customers, while at the same time reminding them what they have available themselves.’
She also shared testimonials from early adopters within AIG. The more people see trusted colleagues recommending the service, the more likely they are to use it. Behavioural science refers to this as ‘social proof’.
Uptake was slow (but steady!) until COVID-19 burst onto the scene.
The orders to stay at home, combined with people’s concerns about COVID-19 symptoms and a sense of urgency around speaking to a doctor, meant Smart Health was able to fill a large need. ‘In the months of March and April, I think it’s fair to say that usage of the GP service doubled,’ says Sue. Since launch, AIG Life has seen 343 employees or their family members make use of at least one of the services. With an organisation size of about 450, that much traction is no small feat.
Their channel strategy had to change, too, as Sue explains. ‘Where once you could use pop-up banners and QR codes on posters in the office, that got wiped out. Now it’s a lot more about social channels and webinars. Our CEO has been active in promoting the benefits of the services, too.’
Russell Norton, Head of Client Experience at scarlettabbott, says this is common theme among many large organisations. ‘Digital channels are now under huge strain, as more teams are working virtually and at faster pace. Finding the appropriate space and airtime for wellbeing messages can be difficult in among operational and safety messages. Many are turning to their enterprise social networks, like Yammer or Workplace, to publish these – but don’t be afraid to give them primetime slots when appropriate. Telehealth not only keeps your people well, it also really boosts your employer brand, so find a way to feature it in your CEO message or intranet homepage too.’
COVID-19 created another important change in internal communication messaging
‘Initially, we focused on awareness,’ says Sue. ‘But then we shifted to action. We focused on getting people to download the app.’ This is particularly powerful as one of the most common barriers to using telehealth services is that people don’t have it on their phones when they have an immediate need, so they default into their old habits of going to the doctor. AIG Life also emphasised that this service was not just for employees, but for their families as well.
One powerful shift in messaging leveraged a powerful motivator: pride. That is, pride both in the NHS, as well as in AIG Life. Natalie shares their shift in tact: ‘One of the benefits of using Smart Health GP Services is reducing pressure on the NHS. Seeking reassurance or guidance from a private practitioner when the NHS was under strain, meant employees could get the help they needed, while playing their part in supporting the NHS.’
Lindsay adds, ‘This type of collective action is also great for boosting general morale in the organizations. When we cooperate toward a common goal together, a nice side effect is that we also end up liking each other more!’
The future of telehealth
‘People have become much more aware of their health and wellness,’ says Helmont. “We might see a shift to more interest in your employer being more paternal.” Providing and highlighting services such as telehealth will also serve employers well as employees start to look for a different type of support that a post-COVID world has exposed.
It’s safe to say that employees will soon start to consider what level of telehealth is offered by employers when choosing who to work for. It will be talked about more often and in more detail than before, potentially adding to the ‘noise’ faced by employees in their day-to-day roles.
Communicating it well – both internally and externally – requires a strategic approach that targets our barriers to adoption and builds on the things that motivate us. Getting these two ingredients right is the recipe for maximising adoption of your telehealth programme.