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Three Trends Driving the Adoption of Telehealth


Long described as a gamechanger in the delivery of care, telehealth adoption remained underutilized in most markets due primarily to payment and policy restrictions. Until 2020.

Now, telehealth adoption has passed through an inflection point. For certain service lines, telehealth comprised a quarter or more of their total ambulatory provider visits in the third quarter of 2020. Meanwhile, Premier data shows that telehealth visits are boasting a 32 percent better no-show rate than in-person visits.

As such, every provider organization should be actively designing a telehealth strategy or refreshing their existing one.

Download our white paper to explore more of Premier’s strategic and data insights on telehealth and access our guidance on how to create a competitive advantage via telehealth.

Here are three trends driving the adoption of telehealth today and tips for providers to capitalize on each one.

There will be a first-to-market advantage for those organizations—including traditional industry players and new market entrants—that can reach consumers with a compelling service and earn them as loyal, repeat customers in their delivery networks.

1. Consumers are seeking a digital experience – even older adults.

Telehealth research contends that 60 percent of patients used some telemedicine in 2020, up from 2 percent in 2019. Specifically, Premier telehealth data shows that the use of ambulatory virtual visits during the third quarter of 2020 increased 30x year over year. The data also suggests there are multiple specialties that are ripe for continued use of telehealth-based services, including behavioral health, endocrinology, rheumatology and gastroenterology.

While older adults with established provider relationships have traditionally been slower to adopt telehealth, the pandemic upended this norm, as well. In a July 2020 survey that queried more than 1,000 Medicare-eligible Americans, we learned that there was a 300 percent increase in seniors using telemedicine services during the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, one in 10 used telemedicine; during the pandemic, 44 percent have used telemedicine. Promisingly, 43 percent intend on using it after.

Providers should ground their telehealth strategies at the intersection of consumer needs and preferences and clinical problems to be solved. We recommend providers answer the following: What are my consumer segments? What are their needs, preferences and pain points? When and how do they want to interact with me?

Don’t be afraid to challenge conventional wisdom regarding appropriate care settings for different populations; staying a step ahead of consumer preferences means thinking like a retailer.

2. Healthcare disrupters changing the consumer experience.

Amid the pandemic, health systems and physician practices faced an unexpected side effect: increased activity from disruptors, eager to snap up independent practices and other entities under financial pressure. A central tenant of the disruptor value proposition: digitally upgrade the experience for patients.

These activities come on top of the years-long movement of grocery store and pharmacy chains like Wal-Mart, CVS and Walgreens stepping into the virtual care space. Google and Amazon have made headlines dipping into digital health analytics. Even Zoom enhanced its HIPAA-compliant medical application in response to COVID-19.

Meanwhile, with amplified demand from consumers comes increased familiarity and proliferation among providers of care. That means progressive providers need to stay ahead of not just the disrupters, but the competition in their own category.

The best way to do this is for providers to both drive efficiencies and promote collaboration. The first step is to develop a roadmap to the future state, mapping existing workflows to identify areas of waste, bottlenecks, critical handoffs and key decision points. From there, providers are able to customize workflows for the entire delivery team, scale services, integrate technology and move toward a patient-first telehealth environment.

Providers that are most successful in this space emphasize ease of access and minimize patient lag – think apps to message with care teams, same-day virtual appointments and data-driven means to improve patient access – such that they act like disrupters themselves.

3. The use of virtual care in value-based arrangements.

While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) traditionally had more restrictions around telehealth, pandemic waivers from CMS expanded the ability for organizations to leverage Zoom, FaceTime and Skype and other video technologies to deliver care. These CMS waivers bear some resemblance to many of the benefit enhancement waivers offered to accountable care organizations (ACOs) participating in two-sided risk models with CMS.

Population health organizations are leveraging telehealth in their value-based care arrangements to manage healthcare costs while improving health management of their patients. Commercial and Medicare Advantage programs tend to have more robust implementations, often offering telehealth to their members along with apps to track healthy habits, view plan information and leverage benefits such as coupons for over-the-counter remedies and supplies. Urgent and emergency care providers offer the ability to “hold your place in line” using virtual check-in to improve patient flow and throughput.

Providers need to ensure their telehealth strategy aligns to the enterprise and payer strategy. Telehealth initiatives that are disconnected from enterprise-level strategic planning run the risk of stalled, siloed and/or failed implementation. Leaders should complement their telehealth strategic plan with a payer contracting strategy that links their reimbursement model with existing and planned telehealth services.

Strong, long-term strategic plans will weave in the projected impact on volume growth, revenue growth and/or cost savings or avoidance. One often overlooked component of the strategic planning process is developing a comprehensive approach to coding, billing and documentation training and education.

Compete and win in the telehealth market by focusing on strategy execution.

While trends come and go, COVID-19 made it clear that telehealth is here to stay. Provider organizations should understand that telehealth strategy execution will be complex, as telehealth initiatives touch nearly every aspect of the organization, including clinical practice, operational workflows, clinical and information technology, and coding and billing.

Providers that proactively chart their strategic path for telehealth – and redesign staffing models and workflows accordingly – will be poised to succeed.

Learn exactly how to do so in our white paper: Ready, Risk, Reward: How Telehealth is Shaping Strategy and Clinical Model Design.

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