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Telehealth 2021 & Beyond

Why Evolving Your Telemedicine Strategy Can’t Wait

Rapid-fire implementation and scaling of telehealth solutions are now everywhere in healthcare.  By the end of April 2020, nearly 70% of practices surveyed reported full or mixed use of telemedicine for routine care in response to mandatory closures. This eruption of telehealth now includes more than 260 standalone virtual care alternatives like Amwell and MDLive. All of which are now actively competing for your patients.

Patients are also significantly more open to telehealth now than in previous years, with claims rising 8,335% YoY at its peak. That increase, however, still represents only 13% of healthcare patients across the nation. That means there is still a big opportunity.

It is critical to get Telehealth right.

For many health systems without integrated telehealth, speed-to-market produced poor telehealth experiences. But despite these less-than-stellar experiences, the rapid pace of adoption drove more trial in less than six months than in the entirety of its history.  Continued integration enhancement and promotion opens the door for more patients, and, ultimately, more money.  It also lowers the cost of care while improving access and quality. More engagement translates into greater continuity of care, and, ultimately, better health outcomes.

Experience is everything.

Prior to COVID-19, San Diego-based Sharp Reese Steely conducted 1-2% of patient visits remotely, with physician telehealth training limited to Primary Care and a handful of specialties. By the beginning of April, 70% of all patient visits shifted to telehealth.  To address these shifts, they invested time in virtual prep and workflow processes and training for what they call “webside manner.” In patient satisfaction surveys (conducted between April 27 to May 25, 2020), results showed a negligible difference — 95% to 94.3% — when comparing an in-office visit to a telemedicine visit. In many categories — ease of scheduling, ability to get desired appointment, and promptness in returning calls — telemedicine scored one percentage point or higher than in-person visits (Go the Distance: Group’s remote visits jump to 70% of total one month after disease onset, Shapira, Sid, AMGA.org, July/August 2020).  While in-person visits have resumed significantly, with nearly 68% of San Diego County fully vaccinated as of July, patients remain eager to engage with telehealth, with virtual care now becoming 17% of their current visit volume.  That’s significantly higher than where they were just 18 months prior. They got it right.

An Opportunity to Remain Competitive 

From triage to follow-ups, telehealth can play an invaluable role in adding efficiencies to some facets of patient care.  And while in-person care will always be a primary focus, a well-developed telehealth strategy can boost the economic health of practices and hospitals for routine needs such as HCC coding and even driving younger demos back into primary care.  

McKinsey estimates $250 billion was spent in virtualized care in 2021 alone.  And as patients have come to expect telehealth as an option for care, turning it off will no longer be possible. Ongoing uncertainty around reimbursement is unlikely.  The more it becomes table stakes with consumers, the more payers will have to adapt to remain competitive. For health care providers to remain competitive, it is essential to keep virtual care visible to patients wherever they are.  That means more than just integrating telehealth into your workflows.  It means integrating virtual care messages into every aspect of promotion of care, from physician follow-up to service line advertising.

At &well, we understand the complex challenges facing hospitals and health systems. If you’re looking for ways to reinvigorate your approach to telehealth, we can help. We’re experts at navigating those challenges to bring an understanding of healthcare to consumers.