New Front Door to Care: Telehealth is Here to Stay

This article is first in a series examining the long-term impact of COVID-19 on health and healthcare issues for the self-insured industry.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted patients’ access to their physicians, the use of telehealth has grown exponentially in 2020 – and we may be only scratching the surface of its role in the future.

So far this year, virtual care visits have reached more than 1 billion, with 500,000 for COVID-19 – an increase of 64.3 percent, according to a recent analysis by Frost & Sullivan. Telehealth’s $3 billion revenue market has the potential to grow to $250 billion, according to McKinsey & Company. Consumers have been 1.6 times more likely to use telehealth after their first experience, so an increasing number of providers are offering it – 53 percent more than before the pandemic began.

Telehealth’s unprecedented rise has captured the attention of public policymakers as well. On August 3, President Trump signed the Executive Order on Improving Rural and Telehealth Access, which extends the availability of virtual care benefits for Medicare beneficiaries during the pandemic. The order, which calls for permanent expansion, accentuates that telehealth may become a lifeline in rural areas with more limited access to in-person care. With multiple telemedicine bills brought to the House and Senate this year, there is broad bipartisan support for Congress to pass legislation that would keep coverage in place.

For self-insured employers, brokers and third-party administrators, the growing emphasis on telehealth facilitates early engagement with members in diagnosing and treating conditions, as well as disease management for chronic care patients. The convenience of telehealth allows members to take charge of their health and promotes care continuity for long-term wellness. Additionally, the surge in telehealth adoption will open up opportunities to better serve members with other virtual care models, such as remote patient monitoring, texting, digital symptom checkers, and online health coaches.

Member demand for virtual care is undeniable. Frost & Sullivan estimates that the U.S. telehealth market will display staggering seven-fold growth by 2025. Surveys this year by McKinsey & Company indicated that providers are seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth than before COVID-19. Of the survey respondents, 76 percent were highly or moderately likely to use telehealth going forward, and 74 percent of telehealth users reported high satisfaction.

Although in-person doctor visits are unlikely to become a thing of the past, telehealth is here to stay. Signs point to its continued growth as a key healthcare delivery tool for the next 12-18 months – until a vaccine becomes widely available – and beyond. For members, telehealth services can offer the benefits of more accessible care, minimized exposure and health risks, ease of use, and improved patient outcomes – the fruits of our labor to reimagine care.

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Rob Gelb is Chief Executive Officer of Vālenz™, one of the nation’s leading medical cost reduction and claims flow management organizations offering expanded solutions to support the self-insured industry.