Telehealth - What’s Next?

Has this ever been truer than now? During the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems like we’ve had to change almost every aspect of daily living. The immediate rise and adoption of telehealth is one proof point. But where do we go from here?

Meet the “Virtualist”

 

About 25 years ago, the term “hospitalist” was coined to refer to a doctor who focuses largely on inpatient care. We are now in the age of the “virtualist.” As pointed out by Lancet, the burden of disease has changed dramatically in the past century, shifting from acute infectious illnesses to chronic diseases. Clinic visits are never optimal for those with chronic illnesses, since in-person visits are time-consuming and yet only cover a single point in time. The quick adoption of telehealth during the pandemic may provide the catalyst needed to make it play a permanent role in managing chronic illnesses.

To date, we have seen a plateau in telehealth visits:

At the same time, office visits have increased:

 

Doximity Estimated That 20% of All Medical Visits Would Be Virtual in 2020

  • Necessity is not the only reason why telehealth is highly accepted.
  • 23% of patients said telemedicine provides the same or better care compared to in-person doctor visits
  • This jumps to 53% for patients with chronic illness
  • 23% plan to use telemedicine once the pandemic ends

 

Source: MM&M

 

Post Covid Acceptance Cost Barriers Are Reemerging

When the pandemic struck, many health insurers waived the cost of co-pays, coinsurance, and deductibles for virtual visits. Starting October 1, several private health insurers will no longer fully pay for virtual visits under certain circumstances. According to STAT, UnitedHealthcare is ending a virtual visit benefit through which it covered the full cost of visits—without any cost to patients—for individuals who had been seeing in-network providers virtually for medical issues not related to COVID-19. Anthem, the company behind several affiliated health plans across the country, will also stop waiving the costs for virtual visits not related to COVID-19.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ waivers are in effect until COVID-19 is no longer considered a public health emergency. In August, the agency proposed codifying some of them and, as a stopgap measure, extending the expiration dates through the end of the year.

As we think about telehealth for our patients, we need to ensure they are aware of all cost implications by providing them with the questions to ask and the resources to turn to.

 Physicians Have Concerns, Too

According to Decision Resources Group/Taking the Pulse®, as of July 2020, 80% of United States physicians had conducted a virtual patient consultation in the previous three months. Among the 20% of physicians who had not, the top reasons were: 

  • possibility of diminished quality of care (49%)
  • liability risks (44%)
  • concerns about privacy/data security (29%)
  • practice does not offer virtual consultations (29%)
  • concerns about reimbursement (21%)
  • it’s not relevant to my specialty (21%)

 

Among those physicians surveyed in June and July who said they had conducted virtual consultations in the past three months, 52% said they are likely to continue to do so after COVID-19 mitigation measures have ended. However, barriers to telemedicine use remain - 58% of United States physicians have lingering reservations about the quality of care they can provide remotely.

Doctors Have Adopted Zoom

Zoom was the #1 platform cited when HCPs were asked which platform they use for telehealth.

Ways Brands Are Leveraging Telehealth

 

There are 4 general ways brands are leveraging telehealth:

Direct Partnerships

Companies drive patients to the telehealth company for consultation:

Multiple Options for Telehealth 

Doesn’t promote one company:

Direct Sales

Brands promote their product through a telehealth provider

Closed-Loop Platform

Rory provides all services, from marketing and diagnosis to fulfillment:

So What’s Right For Your Brand?

 

We are now beginning to see that telehealth isn’t going to replace traditional HCP care. However, it will supplement the treatment relationship and improve an HCP’s ability to provide patient care in the way that fits their needs and lifestyle. So how do you leverage this paradigm to help drive innovative customer experiences? 

First, we need to begin with your target audience and its ability to leverage the benefits of telehealth. Each audience type will have nuances that will affect telehealth adoption. For example, during the pandemic, telehealth use by seniors jumped 300%. More than 60% of Medicare-eligible seniors say they’ve embraced technology more during the pandemic, according to a new survey from UCSF.

However, the study estimated that 38% of the 13 million seniors in the United States are not ready for virtual visits, mainly because of inexperience with technology. This is primarily why easy to use platforms like Zoom became so prevalent. 

So, instead of setting up direct connections to telehealth providers, a brand might want to think about how they can help drive more successful telehealth visits.

  • Tools to support the caregiver
  • Simple step-by-step guides for patients that leverage health literacy best practices
  • Case managers assist with telehealth visits

Next, We Need To Think About What's Right For Your Brand and Indication

 

As mentioned above, virtual care has great potential for the routine treatment of chronic conditions, as well as minor acute illnesses like rashes and ear infections. 

While some disease state can use digital sensors to make it possible to monitor blood glucose, heart rhythm, blood pressure, temperature, and sleep virtually. The diagnosis of most complex conditions might necessitate an in person visit which would restrict telehealth visits to triage or follow-up appointments.

So, as marketers, our challenge becomes building a telehealth experience that supports an already established patient journey and/or helps facilitate an HCPs treatment plan. 

One thing is for sure, even if telehealth visits level off it is here to stay and brands that effectively integrate themselves into the experience will continue to provide best in class experiences to their customers. 

Please contact your account leads or ross.quinn@fcb.com if you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the above.