Health’s NewFUTURE: Virtual health reaches the point of no return – but is the healthcare ecosystem ready to sustain it?
June 30, 2020
Virtual health isn’t just a sign of the times. It’s a sign of the future. COVID-19 has been a major catalyst for virtual health adoption. In fact, one app provider saw a 650% increase in usage across one of the US COVID-19 hotspots.
We will never go back to where we were pre-pandemic because—even if out of necessity—the entire healthcare ecosystem is witnessing the benefits of virtual health. However, the increased use of virtual health is exposing a weakness that must be addressed to improve the future of care: lack of integration.
As a healthcare consumer myself, I have preferred virtual care for years. Rather than seeing a primary care physician in person, I often opt for a virtual visit so I can quickly get the care I need—from wherever I am at the time. Now, due to COVID-19, healthcare providers are using virtual visits and messaging to care for quarantined and “worried well” people. Triage can happen quickly and safely through hotlines for patients and health plan members. Chatbots are helping people to understand whether they need to urgently seek help.
Virtual health is also allowing doctors to deliver mental health services (which have become especially important during the coronavirus pandemic), treat chronic conditions and monitor patients remotely. Patients get the advice they need from the safety and comfort of their home, and the provider treats patients efficiently and effectively while reducing burden on the system.
Adapting to the new
Pre-pandemic, we knew that many healthcare consumers across generations would choose virtual for basic care services if given the choice. Younger consumers are also more open to receiving virtual care services from non-traditional providers such as technology or social media companies, retail brands and medical startups. COVID-19 has likely accelerated this trend.
COVID-19 also brought forth many uncertainties about how care could and should be delivered. Virtual health is helping providers to outmaneuver the uncertainty. Clinicians and consumers are acclimating to the virtual approach, both payers and providers benefit from it and reimbursement models are catching up. But the healthcare ecosystem as a whole needs to do more to make virtual health viable for the long term.
What we need is a marriage of digital-physical to provide effective, safe care. The new future of care will rely on seamless, coordinated care that provides people with the right attention, service, therapies and products to instill confidence and safety across all moments.
Making it sustainable
As the need for distance becomes persistent, care providers need the ability to deliver “touchless” products, services and care—anytime, anywhere. Our estimates show that in the future, 1 in 3 healthcare visits will be conducted virtually.
So, what needs to change to make virtual a routine part of healthcare models? Here are three things that I recommend healthcare ecosystem players do now to enable the new future of care:
The pandemic has fueled a massive shift to virtual care. The entire health ecosystem must heed this wakeup call and work together to integrate virtual health into care and business models. We have recently published a paper that addresses the new future of healthcare, including how to provide services safely and effectively at a distance.
Read about how to outmaneuver uncertainty in healthcare’s new future, and please reach out to me to explore how your organization can benefit from this model of care.
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