Digital health can help make returning to work safer

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As companies consider plans for returning to work amid coronavirus shutdowns, employees’ safety will be a major concern.

Proposed solutions like antibody screening, thermal cameras and on-site nurses can be both expensive and impractical. That’s why a digital health approach can be a safe, effective and scalable tool to bring employees back to work, says Andrew Le, co-founder and CEO at Buoy Health.

“There's really not a single solution that is effective on its own,” he says. “Digital health can be a home base for an employer to take multiple strategies and layer them at the same time, because 100% of your population needs help every single day to figure out how to come in safely.”

Le also shared how digital health can boost employee confidence, and best practices for employers in how they approach return-to-work through digital health.

What are some problems you see for employers as they think about how to reopen their business?
At the end of the day, there's really no silver bullet. As you think about all of the solutions that are in the market right now — whether that is antibody testing, viral testing, thermometers, shift management, protective gear — there's an array of solutions, but each one on their own has some weaknesses. There's really not a single solution that is effective on its own.

The second problem is that each employee has a different level of risk that the employer may not know about. [It can be things like] who they live with, if they live with someone who's immunosuppressed, how they get to work; if they drive in or take the subway, what role they have within the company, which building they are in, what underlying medical conditions they have. So each employee is unique in their own way in that regard when it comes to COVID. As an employer with thousands of employees, that becomes really difficult to manage.

Additionally, an employer has a limited set of resources. There are a lot of challenges with not just the cost of trying to reopen, but there’s also a limited amount of supply of a lot of services and goods — like testing — that you would need in order to get back up and running. So if you have 100 tests, who are you going to test? That is a very essential question that a lot of employers are going to have to solve.

How can companies and employers approach returning to work through digital health?
With digital health, you could potentially have your employees self-report their risks, whether that be the employee taking the subway, or living with someone who’s immunosuppressed. Digital health can be a great way to manage your resources. So if you know the risks that each employee has, [you can decide] what is a scalable way for you to bring people back, depending on their risk level. There's a big opportunity there for digital health to literally be a resource manager on behalf of the employer.

An employer can also leverage digital health to layer multiple strategies on top of each other, whether that be sending a percentage of people to testing based on their risk level, or monitoring who is positive and who is not in order to change their strategy [for reopening].

Another great way that you could leverage digital health to scale your operation and get people back safely is [using it] to scalably monitor and assess people's symptoms on a daily basis, which can help people who are sick to stay at home and quarantine, and those who are not sick to then figure out what they should do in order to get into work that day.

How is Buoy working with its clients to approach this?
The whole world is going to have to figure out how to reopen safely, in a way that doesn't create a massive spike in cases again. With the employers we're talking to now, we’re seeing that it’s well-established what to do with those who are symptomatic. The next step is what you do with the asymptomatic individuals, because if you don't have some symptoms, you can still carry the virus. You really have to be thoughtful in how to bring back the asymptomatic individuals, in addition to of course helping the symptomatic employees stay at home, and get care and testing. It's a really, really difficult problem to solve.

We're working on a tool, essentially a risk assessment, to understand what else is going on with [an employee’s] life. Then we're creating a workforce management solution that — based on things like the employee’s job, what role they have, what building they're in — helps employers decide how to bring employees back in a way that is safe. It can also help employers measure the results of the strategy that they’re putting in place, and then how to change that strategy to actually continue to drive towards safer and safer outcomes.

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