Arielle Trzcinski, Senior Analyst
Virtual healthcare has existed in some form for decades, but it never quite took off as a viable alternative to in-person visits — until this year. As the COVID-19 pandemic made in-person medical visits more difficult, adoption of virtual care by both consumers and providers has skyrocketed. In this episode of What It Means, Senior Analyst Arielle Trzcinski digs into the adoption explosion to determine which changes will be short-lived and which will be permanent.
Historically, virtual care adoption was limited by factors including cost, provider access, and awareness. Providers didn’t invest in platforms because they were typically reimbursed more for in-person visits than virtual consults. Patients often had to consult with clinicians associated with the specific service, not their normal primary care provider. And many consumers simply didn’t know that their health plan offered virtual care of some kind.
The COVID-19 pandemic has driven adoption out of necessity, says Trzcinski. Patients and providers are much more open to using virtual care for non-emergency consultations. In addition, increased funding and policy changes have eliminated barriers and made virtual care much more accessible during the pandemic.
How much growth has there been this year? Trzcinski says one provider saw a 2,000% increase in net-new patients on its platform in the month of April alone. Another saw more than 500,000 new patients sign up after new policies allowed them to connect with their own doctors on the platform. While that kind of explosive growth and change brought some user experience issues, many clinicians are realizing that virtual care platforms have useful functionality, such as embedded documentation that can streamline administrative processes for visits.
What’s the outlook for virtual care after the pandemic? For clinicians, the new use cases have proven compelling enough to continue emphasizing it. For example, clinicians recognize the efficiency of checking in with patients who may be recovering at home and don’t need a physical exam but benefit from direct contact with their doctor. And health insurers and employers have recognized that the improved continuity of care typically equates to lower medical spend and overall costs.