Virtual health care is meeting critical needs now, and will be essential to patient care during the national recovery and beyond.
There’s a constant hum around all the ways the healthcare industry needs to improve and shift. COVID-19 has been the catalyst needed to accelerate that change overnight. There’s no more waiting. The time to accept and embrace innovation is here.
Digital health care services, like telemedicine and virtual primary care, were thrust onto the frontlines of the pandemic battle. What has seen slow adoption in recent years is now gilded as essential, and will continue to play a critical role in the recovery of our overtaxed health systems.
“The social and medical practices that are happening in response to COVID-19 will remain in place when the crisis eventually subsides,” reported Eric Topol, MD, a highly regarded cardiologist and medical author. “Telemedicine will play the role of the first consultation, akin to the house-call of yore,” for a long time to come.
It will be impossible to return to normal once this has all resolved. Who would want to? The healthcare system is broken and hasn’t worked for far too long. The deficits have never been more conspicuous:
- Trillions of dollars in overspending and unnecessary treatment
- Out of control health care costs that increase annually, while benefits get worse
- Complicated access to the right kind of care when it’s needed
- A system designed to put the interests of legacy insurance companies first, not patients
If it all seems too expensive now, wait until next year when we see the true economic fallout of the pandemic. In 2021, some are projecting as much as a 40% spike in premiums from legacy health insurance carriers. That’s a dire warning from California’s Affordable Care Act marketplace that also cautioned:
- Increased out-of-pocket expenses for employees
- Employers drop or reduce coverage
- Employers shift more of the cost-share burden to employees
For as much as this is breaking our norms, finances and even spirits in the moment, employers who can embrace drastic change now are primed to fare far better on the other side.
Most companies admit that their health plan does not maximize value nor deliver truly modern benefits, per a 2019-2020 Benefit Trends Survey from via Willis Towers Watson. This is your chance to take decisive action with your company’s benefits plan and budget.
The telehealth and virtual health care services popularized in this moment will be the saving grace of the entire industry when it’s time to repair itself. Hospitals, health systems and private practice providers will face a period of recovery.
Digital health services, as we describe below, will be:
- Called upon to bridge the gap
- More cost-effective, efficient and accessible
- The new standard
TELEMEDICINE AND TELEHEALTH
“Out of every crisis, a new opportunity arises. For telehealth, it may be an opportunity whose time has finally come,” wrote Paddy Padmanabhan, author of The Big Unlock Harnessing Data and Growing Digital Health Businesses in a Value-based Care era.
Adoption rates for telemedicine have been about 2% nationally, but Padmanabhan cited increases of 500% since coronavirus arrived.
Now that everyone’s gotten a crash course in this alternative to urgent care, we expect to see engagement continue to replace costly in-person visits.
Employers should champion this. One case study cited a company saved $6 for every $1 spent on telemedicine.
VIRTUAL PRIMARY CARE
Where telemedicine is a virtual replacement for urgent care, VPC virtually replaces the primary care office. The low or zero-dollar copays eliminate the barrier to entry, and reduce costs for employers and employees alike. For annual physicals, chronic care and disease management and self-care combined, VPC poses “an economic value of approximately $10 billion annually across the U.S. health system over the next few years.”
The on-demand availability by instant chat, video, or telephone eliminates days of waiting for appointments. Patients can see a doctor right now about any little or big concern they have. These physicians can diagnose and manage about 95% of conditions seen in-office, and can diagnose and treat about 70% of primary care health concerns (without an in-person referral).
We expect patient consumers to become much more familiar and comfortable with this method of care and standardize it going forward.
VIRTUAL PHYSICAL THERAPY
SHRM calls tele-rehab the sweet spot of telemedicine, and lauds it as a lower-cost, higher-satisfaction alternative to in-person physical therapy. Through technology as simple as Skype and as novel as 3D motion-capture, therapists can work with patients remotely and achieve positive results.
A 2020 large employer healthcare survey found that 85% of employers ranked musculoskeletal issues as a top-three condition with the biggest impact on their costs. And a 2019 study by orthopaedic surgeons found that post-surgical tele-rehab services saved a minimum of $1,000 per patient.
VIRTUAL BEHAVIORAL HEALTH
Another sweet spot in telemedicine is virtual behavioral or mental health services. Patients use video conferencing tools from their own couch to speak with an on-demand therapist or to establish recurring therapy. Studies have found it to be just as effective as face-to-face meetings with lower attrition rates.
Especially amongst millennials (now in their early 20s to late 30s), instances of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues have never been so high. As Americans cope with the current quarantine, and in time grapple with the emotional and economic ramifications, remote access to mental health may become the rule, not the exception.
Teletherapy apps, like that of our partner MeMD, have completely disrupted a decades-old practice in the best way. Virtual behavioral health will continue to improve access to and reduce the stigma of this necessary healthcare service.
ASK THE TOUGH QUESTIONS TO GET AHEAD
How much access do you and your employees have right now to this modern suite of healthcare services? Do you have any idea how much it would cost if you did?
Rising healthcare costs are one of the greatest challenges facing 80% of employers in the next 36 months. The yet-to-be-seen ramifications of COVID-19 can’t ease those concerns.
Ask your advisor: How much will my premiums increase, and benefits value decrease, in 2021?
Are you comfortable with the answer?
You can stand by and wait to see what’s going to happen to you later this year or next. Or, you can decide it’s time for your company to take control of the cost, experience and quality of your health benefits plan and demand better benefits for less money.
Apostrophe is already way ahead of that curve for plan sponsors. Our Intelligent Health Benefits:
- Simplify and improve the member experience with white glove Member Care
- Provide a curated suite of virtual health care solutions
- Collaborate with a robust roster of partners to provide telehealth and flexible payment options
- Advocate on behalf of our members for low- and $0 treatment options with high-quality providers
- Make price transparency the standard ahead of a federal mandate
This pandemic will impact all of us in ways we still can’t know for sure. It will not, however, eliminate your ability to transform the most expensive line in your ledger.