The start of the New Year means getting back to business as usual for most of us, but for many workers across the country, it also ushers in the need for sick days and hand sanitizer. In fact, the flu season has hit the country earlier than expected, with its peak not estimated to occur until late January or early February of 2015. With half of US states reporting high amounts of “flu-like cases” and at least 15 pediatric deaths, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention officially declared a flu epidemic in the US. Even if you manage to avoid catching the flu this year, if you are an employee, manager or business owner, then you’re still likely to be impacted by this seasonal health crisis and it begs the discussion of technology’s role in easing the pain.
Every flu season nearly 111 million workdays are lost, equaling approximately $7 billion per year in sick days and lost productivity, according to Flu.gov. A recent Staples survey indicated that although the number of employees who go to work with the flu has dropped in recent years, there are approximately 40 percent of employees who feel there is too much going on at work to stay home. The boss is a big influencer in that decision; with 31 percent of employees choosing to go to work sick because they think their boss appreciates it. Despite all the effort to make it into the office, more than a third of workers surveyed admitted not getting as much accomplished, noting that their personal productivity level at the office drops by half when not feeling well.
When coming to work sick means losing productivity, or simply isn’t worth the risk of contaminating others, businesses should be prepared with alternate solutions. Specifically, ensure the right technology is in place to enable workers to telecommute, even if it’s only temporary. Enabling employees to work remotely in some form or another continues to be a rising trend thanks to such things as business phone systems with Unified Communications (UC) capabilities, cloud-based file sharing, and softphone apps. These tools lend themselves to making work from home just as possible as work from the office – with less germs and no productivity loss. Not to mention, these technology solutions are simple and affordable.
In addition to working remotely, there is another way sick employees can benefit from technology, while also lessening the likelihood of widespread contamination. Instead of making a trip to the doctor’s office, telemedicine provides an alternate solution for those suffering from the flu.
Recently, some doctors in Tennessee have asked patients with flu-like symptoms to stay home instead of coming into their offices to be evaluated. Physicians are instead recommending that patients seek diagnosis and treatment options from over the phone or online. Telemedicine, as defined by the American Telemedicine Association, is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology. The medical field has always been a face-to-face type of service, even for mundane checkups, but technology introduces a more convenient way to seek treatment. Now, with access to IP telephony, video, WebRTC (web-based real-time communications) and other advanced technology solutions, telemedicine is starting to become a more prevalent in society.
While flu season trudges on, keeping germs out of doctors’ offices is just one of the reason telemedicine should continue to be adopted by the medical community. As Baby Boomers age, it will not only become more difficult for them to get to doctors’ appointments, but it will be increasingly challenging for the healthcare industry to keep up with the demand of this large, aging population. Telemedicine offers a solution to both of those problems. Additionally, as the debate continues over the future of the healthcare system in the US, doctors are looking for ways to cut costs. Telemedicine practices not only increase convenience for patients but also help reduce costs by permitting key practices to be handled remotely, including:
- Tracking disease progression
- Sharing specialists
- Monitoring chronic conditions to avoid emergency room visits
- Reading radiology diagnostic tests
- Monitoring and coordinating treatment plans
While telemedicine is not designed to completely replace in-office visits, business communications technology enables patients to easily connect with their doctor via a voice or video chat. It can also enable an extended care option such as seeing a specialist out of their area, and not having to wait several months to do so. This could greatly increase the number of people that are able to obtain treatment. And in cases of the flu and other easily-spread viruses, the role of technology to support remote working continues to help maintain productivity in the office, while telemedicine in healthcare allows for the treatment of the sick while protecting the healthy.
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