Improving Access to Healthcare for Expat Workers

With $1.33 trillion in global business-travel spending and more than 66.2 million expatriate workers worldwide in 2017, the globally mobile workforce is expanding–with few signs of slowing down.

As a result, experts say, HR leaders from multinational companies are increasingly focused on supporting expat and traveling employees and their dependents to drive engagement, retention and productivity–with better access to healthcare an important focus to hit those objectives.

Among the offerings are telehealth solutions including mobile apps, video conferencing and phone consultations that provide employees and their families convenient access to quality non-emergency care, say the experts.

When employers add telehealth solutions, says Rhonda Peterson, associate director of global services and solutions at Willis Towers Watson, it potentially translates into less time off work for affected employees. Employees or family members, she adds, can receive the care they need quickly, delivering the peace of mind they need to get on with their jobs and lives.

“General medical advice can be addressed within a couple days, as opposed to waiting weeks to get that doctor’s appointment,” she says.

Kathleen O’Driscoll, vice president for the global business group at the National Business Group on Health, says telehealth can provide an effective solution to the challenge HR faces with expat employees, whether their families relocate with them or not.

Also, a shift within some companies for more international relocations, instead of expat assignments, poses another challenge, according to O’Driscoll. For example, in the expatriate arrangement a global health plan is offered. In an international relocation, the employee typically is placed under the new host location local plan.

“This causes a gap,” she says. “Local plans rarely have coverage in other countries to meet the needs of the trailing dependent [the ones who do not relocate] and staying on their local home plan is not an option either. Companies have been discussing how to address this gap and the potential role telehealth could play.”

Teladoc Health Inc., a company that provides integrated clinical solutions such as telehealth and expert medical services, and AI and analytics, recently launched Teladoc Global Care to meet those challenges, according to Dan Trencher, the company’s senior vice president of product and corporate strategy. He explains that Global Care enables multinational employers to provide expats and travelers with a single solution for convenient, user-friendly access to quality care, regardless of geographic location.

“Navigating an unfamiliar health system while traveling heightens uncertainty and stress for employees and can result in higher costs for plan sponsors,” Trencher says, adding that with this launch, Teladoc’s goal is to transform how people access and experience healthcare around the world.

Delivered within the broader Teladoc mobile app (used in the U.S.), Global Care facilitates communication with a doctor who speaks the individual’s language but also is experienced and trained to listen to each employee’s situation with cultural sensitivity–guiding the person through the local health system as needed. Plus, the 24/7, non-emergency service is worldwide and care is delivered in more than 20 languages including English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Hungarian, Polish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Thai, Malay, Hindi, Japanese and Arabic. Global Care offers a per-user fee as an add-on to Teladoc’s domestic telehealth service.

“Regardless of location, when a person is seeking care for themselves or for a family member, they need to have complete confidence in the medical decisions being made,” says Lew Levy, Teladoc’s chief medical officer. “With our global physician network, we provide the comfort and clinical expertise for members, whether they are home or thousands of miles away from home. We’re reducing stress, lowering costs and improving care around the globe.”

While it doesn’t have a global telehealth network in place yet, American Well, a telehealth provider, entered into a strategic partnership with global insurer Allianz. in Jan. 2018. American Well, which works with employers, national health plans, hospitals and pharmacies in the U.S., received a $59.2 million investment from the insurance giant. According to American Well, working with local healthcare stakeholders, the partnership will deliver healthcare will address local regulations, clinical preferences and financing choices.

“Advancing global health digitally is a big mission and one we know we cannot accomplish alone,” says Ido Schoenberg, chairman and CEO at American Well, in a company statement. “Our scalable telehealth platform and partnership ecosystem are key to any global solution.”

Apart from telehealth services such as Global Care, WTW’s Peterson says that employee demographics (e.g., gender, age), country locations, and job roles and responsibilities are key areas HR needs to carefully assess when determining the right medical benefits for a globally mobile population.

“Simply providing these benefits is not enough,” she explains. “Benefits must also be effectively communicated and care must be accessible globally.

For example, insurers often provide welcome kits to help communicate benefits. Webinars are another communication option. Insurers also provide other online tools and resources to help with pre-trip planning, locating a physician, disease management, direct-payment procesings, claims filing and wellness. Through telehealth services, a sick expatriate employee on a business trip can quickly seek care, potentially preventing a minor incident from escalating.

“Getting ill while on assignment or even on a short-term business trip may be a minor incident that does not require hospitalization or even an actual doctor’s office visit, but still requires care,” Peterson says.

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Tom Starner
Tom Starner is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia who has been covering the human resource space and all of its component processes for over two decades. He can be reached at [email protected]