Redefining The Fate Of Virtual Care

By: Arielle Trzcinski

Last quarter delivered several shocks to the healthcare system, including a series of downturns for virtual care. Teladoc CEO Jason Gorevic exited amid missed financial projections and a plummeting stock price, Optum is shutting down its virtual care program, and Walmart Health is closing all 51 health centers across five states and shutting down its virtual care offering. The industry’s reaction to flattening consumer demand and pressure to cut costs is nevertheless a series of blows to convenient access to patient care.

Shrinking Pains: Integrating Virtual Care Into A Modern Healthcare System

Virtual care alone — especially with a provider that has no context or medical history for a patient — is not the way forward for healthcare. Consumers want virtual care but do not win in that model. Their journey is more fragmented, and without a clear picture of the patient’s medical history, providers’ diagnoses can be wildly inaccurate. In a direct-to-consumer (DTC) or employer-based model, the telehealth company wins but only for a short period of time. Patients benefit from fast and easy scheduling, but the care interaction is transactional at best. Hybrid models are necessary to fully support patients’ care needs. Virtual care is healthcare — it is just another modality that ensures that care is delivered in a timely, convenient manner.

We’ve seen widespread adoption of virtual healthcare platforms, but many health systems have purchased multiple solutions to deliver virtual care visits. This led to confusion among patients and staff, inconsistencies in the experience, and surging costs. Healthcare providers are now rationalizing and consolidating these platforms. Forrester anticipated this stabilization and evolution toward focusing more on chronic care management and mental health and noted this in a virtual care forecast in 2020.

Telehealth Can Reconnect Consumers’ Journeys

Virtual care offers a vital lifeline for primary care, chronic care management, and mental health to those in areas with provider supply shortages — especially in medical deserts, which already cover over 80% of US counties. These deserts have continued to spread in urban areas and cities as key stakeholders, including retailers, close up shop or “go on a diet” with their expansion plans. Health systems and hospitals are in a strong position to leverage telehealth and remote patient management technologies to rebuild their connections with patients and keep them engaged in between appointments or when minor but urgent issues arise. Consumers want convenient access to a provider. Retailers and DTC digital health companies initially stepped in to fill this gap. But as they exit due to unsustainable business models, providers need to be ready to fill the void.

There Are Issues That We Still Need To Solve

For many consumers, the journey to virtual care with traditional healthcare networks is still disjointed or an afterthought. What should healthcare organizations do? Educate customers about how virtual care plays a key role in keeping them connected to their existing doctors. Ensure that scheduling is easy and frictionless to drive adoption. Companies such as DexCare are working with large health systems to merchandise care resources and streamline the scheduling experience.

  • Healthcare providers: Incorporate virtual care thoughtfully into your care plans. From chronic care to urgent needs, ensure that your existing patient panels can tap into the convenience of virtual care. Otherwise, expect them to seek convenient options that remain and continue to expand across the value chain, like CVS Health.
  • Health insurers: Bolster reimbursement efforts to encourage this model. Your members want convenience. You want to control quality and remove barriers to care. Empower members to access care anywhere in the modality they choose — phone, video, asynchronous chat, etc. — with their existing doctors, not outsourced models.
  • Digital health companies: Build or solidify partnerships with existing provider networks to ensure continuity of care and alleviate provider shortages. Move from transactional models to journey-based experiences to drive sustained adoption and engagement with consumers.

Have more questions or want to discuss? Forrester clients can schedule a guidance session with me. In the meantime, check out some of our research on virtual care and the future of the customer experience in healthcare.

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