Willis Towers Watson: 44% of employees have deferred care due to COVID-19

Nearly half of employees have deferred care amid the pandemic, according to a new survey from Willis Towers Watson.

Willis Towers Watson surveyed 5,000 workers and found that 44% had deferred medical care at some point during the pandemic, with 30% saying they canceled an appointment or visit themselves. Twenty-five percent said their medical provider canceled an appointment.

Of those who pushed off care, 61% said they did so due to concern about the pandemic, and 42% cited money concerns.

Willis Towers Watson also found that 29% of those who deferred care said their health suffered as a result. In addition, 40% expected to experience negative health effects due to care deferral.

RELATED: COVID-19 is pushing employers to offer new virtual care offerings, survey finds

Despite these findings, overall just 15% of the surveyed employees said their physical health had worsened due to the pandemic, while 22% said their physical health actually improved. The remaining 63% reported no change.

However, more employees did report negative impacts on their mental health, according to the survey. Close to one-third (29%) reported declining mental health, while 18% said their mental health improved during the pandemic.

“One of the biggest challenges employers face is how to support employees’ mental health and emotional wellbeing needs. This is especially true for employees who work from home and feel disconnected,” said Regina Ihrke, senior director and well-being leader at Willis Towers Watson, in a statement.

“While it’s encouraging that many employees appear to be managing the pandemic well from a physical and lifestyle perspective, it is imperative for employers to closely gauge and take action to improve the wellbeing of their workforce. Those that do so will be best positioned to help employees thrive both now and when the pandemic passes.”

The survey also highlighted the ongoing trend of much higher telehealth use under the pandemic. Close to half of those surveyed (47%) said they used virtual health services this year, up from 17% saying the same last year.

Employees also gave their experiences with virtual care a positive review, with 79% saying such visits are equally as good as in-person visits, and 25% saying they're better. Most (78%) said they would likely use virtual care services in the future.

“Virtual care turned out to be just what the doctor ordered during the pandemic,” said Julie Stone, managing director of health and benefits at Willis Towers Watson, in a statement.