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Post-pandemic era likely to be a different kind of normal

By Kevin Oklobzija, BridgeTower Media Newswires

While there is hope on the horizon that normalcy will return to everyday life sooner than later, the post-pandemic business world surely won’t look the way it did before March 2020.

Many businesses are prepared to maintain some form of work-from-home arrangements. Some businesses were forced to close forever, leaving some workers without jobs. People have become accepting of doctor visits by phone or computer.

How should business owners position their companies in a post-COVID-19 economy?

Employer liability/Working from home

Working from home is here to stay in some form, so employers need to know their responsibility when it comes to the home office setting.

Workers’ compensation laws don’t differentiate between the employer’s office and an employee’s home work space, according to Greg Conners, founding partner at Connors & Ferris, a Rochester, N.Y.-based firm that specializes in representing injured workers. A workplace injury is a workplace injury.

“Quite often now, work circumstances are such that somebody may not have an ergonomic setup or the most conducive work environment around them, which can create hazards that an employer, if you’re at their workplace, would not always have,” Connors said.

Thus, the gray area involves how an injury occurred, he said. Connors uses the example of an employee working at home, with skis and ski poles directly behind the employee’s chair. The employee gets up to do something, trips over or knocks over the skis and ski poles, and suffers an injury. Who’s responsible?

“There could be the nexus created between their employment and the injury that occurred, as crazy as that seems,” Connors said.

Employers can avoid such issues by having regular video conference meetings and setting protocol for those meetings: Everyone’s camera must be on, and no virtual “scenic” backgrounds are allowed.

“One of the things that we always recommend is that as an employer, as a manager or a supervisor, when you’re having these meetings, that you want to maintain an engaged visual inspection of the area, so that you can prevent and minimize any potential injuries that may occur,” Connor said.

Employers also may need to provide an ergonomic workspace, just as if the employee was in the workplace.

“If you don’t provide it,” Connors said, “and they continue to work and those work activities are repetitive in nature or such that the work activity itself based upon the surrounding circumstances may cause or contribute to an injury, the employer may be vulnerable to a claim for the resulting injury.”

Hooked on telehealth

There was an exponential increase in telehealth visits during the pandemic. Between January and November of 2020, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield registered 2.2 million virtual visits. There were just 28,500 during the same 11-month period in 2019.

That included 950,000 telehealth visits in the behavioral health field (mental health and substance abuse), compared with only 7,000 the previous year.

“Telehealth is here to stay,” said Stephen Cohen, senior vice president and chief medical officer for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

How it evolves is the unknown. Will states mandate telehealth for some services? What are the true costs compared to office visits? How will telehealth impact quality of care? These are questions that can’t yet be answered, Cohen said.

The prevailing fear is that people could seek to make only telehealth appointments and health issues could go undiagnosed.

“If you talk to most physicians, the vast majority of doctors know there is no substitute for an in-person visit,” Cohen said. “It’s kind of hard to do a complete physical without laying hands on, so you really will have things you will have to continue to do in an office setting.

“On the flip side, once a relationship has been established, once there have been things established in an office visit, I do believe there will be a great opportunity to use telehealth to improve care and to have that as an alternative to care.”

Cohen said that could be especially true with behavioral health visits as well as providing more attentiveness to appointments and follow-up care.

The 4 “R’s” for entrepreneurs

Perhaps the pandemic prompted you to pause your venture, or you were content to tread water rather than diving into the deep end.

Ebony Miller-Wesley, director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship at Rochester Institute of Technology, suggested entrepreneurs use her four “R’s” when moving forward:

  • Is there still demand for what you offer? Do you have a competitive advantage?
  • Revisiting your business plan will help you stay on task and provide a more keen strategy.
  • What is the competition doing? What’s working for them? You need to know what you’re up against.
  • We don’t know what we don’t know, but there are services available to help. And it shouldn’t be a one-and-done with those who are willing to help. Touch base often to discuss progress.

 

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