It’s the most wonderful time of the year … maybe. For some of your employees the holiday season can be challenging.

According to the American Psychological Association, the stress starts elevating in early November. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around 69% of people are experiencing stress due to the holiday’s impact on their money and time. Expectations surrounding the holidays also takes a toll on people, and over half say they struggle with a perceived need to create the “perfect” holiday for their loved ones. Others may find that anxiety and depression are constant companions during the holiday season.

Health, Wellness and Stress

Stress is a significant health problem. Our bodies respond to stress much as they would respond to an imminent physical threat. The brain prompts adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol that are useful in helping a person to fight back against the threat or run away from it very quickly.

Our physical responses to stress worked great for our Neolithic ancestors, but are less than useful when the problem is financial demands or a packed mall. When stress hormones are released they increase your heart rate and boost your blood pressure. They crank up the sugars (glucose) in your bloodstream so that your brain can power-up. They also alter the physical responses that make it easier to survive an emergency: your digestive system is suppressed, your mood and motivation becomes focused fully on survival, and your immune system response is altered.

An overabundance of adrenaline in your system can cause high blood pressure, angina, heart disease and heart attacks, stress headaches, upset stomach or heartburn, sore throats (due to dry mouth), and sleep disorders. Combined with cortisol, the immune system can become less able to fight off common ailments such as sinus infections, colds and flu. As if all that wasn’t enough, many people try to cope with stress by indulging in unhealthy behaviors such as overindulgence in food, alcohol or drugs.

Managing Health during the Holidays

Given the time-pressures associated with this time of year, and the fact that everyone – including private physicians and other health professionals are out of the office – accessing healthcare during the holiday season can be difficult. Not only do doctors have reduced office hours, people are often travelling as well, and may not have easy access to their own healthcare team.

This is a great time to reach out to employees and remind them of their health benefits – particularly the benefits, such as telehealth – that can significantly reduce holiday stress. But for many of us, simple health problems ranging from stomach upsets to an impending case of the flu can be easily managed with a virtual doctor’s visit, rather than an expensive emergency room visit.

Obviously, anyone who suspects they are experiencing a health crisis should head to the nearest emergency room or urgent care center ASAP. Telehealth care is best used to address simple health issues such as sinus infections, allergies, bronchitis, influenza and severe colds, rashes, bladder and ear infections and similar ailments.

 Get Your Employees Telehealth Ready Now

Now is a great time to make sure employees understand their telehealth benefit, and have activated their accounts. Below is some guidance and tips that you may want to include in an email or handout and/or review with employees in a training meeting:

Activate your account: Remind employees that the best time to get their telehealth accounts set up is now – before they need to use it. Most importantly, make sure that they have filled in their medical history form. This is part of the account activation process on most telehealth service sites.

Medical records: Let employees know that creating their medical record is a simple process. They simply need to answer a few questions about their medical history, any medical conditions they have now, medications the take, and any allergies that they may have. Each adult covered by a plan will need to fill out their own medical history record. Parents/guardians can fill in the record for children in their care.

Privacy: Remind employees that telehealth providers are legally obligated to keep all medical records private. They are required to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which requires proper security for patient’s medical records, and strict confidentiality about the information a patient shares and the treatments/advice that is provided.

The doctor’s visit: Make sure employees know what happens during a virtual consultation. They simply request a consultation using the web, app or phone number associated with their benefit provider. The doctor gets in touch – by video chat app or the phone – within minutes. The patient then describes their symptoms, the doctor asks questions, and diagnoses the problem. After a diagnosis is reached, the patient is given treatment advice. If a prescription is needed, the doctor will call it in to a local pharmacy.

Cost: The cost to the employee and company depends on the benefit package. If telehealth is included in the company’s healthcare insurance plan, the employee may have a co-pay of $20-$50 for the consultation. A few telehealth bundles, such as :DP HealthNow, provide free, unlimited telemedicine visits as part of their benefit bundle for small and medium-sized businesses.

Telehealth Plans for Small Businesses

Besides unlimited, free virtual visits with doctors, :DP HealthNow includes a bundle of telehealth benefits that cover the entire healthcare spectrum for your employees, from medical bill negotiation services to personal healthcare advocates to wellness programs and online access to a team of medical professionals – including pharmacists, nurses, dentists, and nutritionists –  for guidance and advice.