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August 13, 2020

Navigating The Next Phase of Telehealth Adoption

Hospital systems around the country are still managing the effects of COVID-19 and seeking to understand how the pandemic will change the healthcare industry in the future.

  • Between March 2 and April 14, 2020 NYU Langone Health reported Virtual Urgent Care visits increased 683 percent and Non-Urgent Video Visits grew 4,345 percent.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported that before COVID only 14,000 patients received care through telehealth each week. During the pandemic–from mid-March to July–more than 10 million patients have received care through a telehealth service, roughly a 182% increase. Providers also reported that telehealth interactions increased from 9 percent of all visits to 51 percent during the pandemic.
  • At Bright.md, we have seen unprecedented utilization of our asynchronous virtual care product, SmartExam, as well. When comparing April 2019 to April 2020, we have seen a 600 percent increase across our customers, with rates as high as 1,200 percent for some health systems. Also, we have seen a 2,000 percent increase of net new patients across the Bright.md virtual care platform.

All of the data points to an important, if obvious, conclusion: more patients are using virtual care than ever before.

Why is this important to health systems now? Because we have jumped into a new phase of telehealth adoption. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, a J.D. Power U.S. Telehealth Satisfaction Study (Source) predicted an increase in patient telehealth adoption across the United States would be 15-25% in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused virtual care adoption to far surpass those expectations.

If we apply these utilization trends to the innovation-adoption curve for the telehealth industry, it is clear we have entered the next phase of diffusion among healthcare consumers. We have moved from Early Adopters to the Early Majority.

While this is great news for telehealth and virtual care providers, such a dramatic increase in patient adoption presents new challenges for health systems and the executives who are responsible for patient experience and engagement. The data show that patients who were part of the Innovators and Early Adopters cohorts love the convenience of virtual care. As the Early Majority begins to experience those same benefits, demand for seamless convenient virtual care will continue to increase.

Healthcare consumers have more options than ever now, and COVID-19 has given them the motivation to turn to virtual care to solve their healthcare needs. To compete with the technology and direct-to-consumer healthcare companies rapidly gaining market share, hospital systems need to adapt to this new phase of telehealth adoption. They can do that by opening the door for patients seeking virtual care, educating patients about their virtual care options, and building the digital interfaces to effectively navigate patients through their care journey.

Now that we are in the Early Majority phase of telehealth adoption, hospital marketing teams can stop working to raise awareness of telehealth, and instead focus on educating patients about how it works, the benefits, and what conditions are appropriate for virtual care. Health system marketing teams that can successfully educate their patient populations about using available virtual care options will be able to continue to provide care to existing patients, draw in new patients, and build loyalty with those patients.

Another challenge hospital systems face as more patients seek out virtual care falls under the virtual care patient experience. How might we navigate patients to the most appropriate virtual care modality effectively and efficiently? The increase in demand for virtual care necessitates building the digital infrastructure that can navigate patients through multiple virtual and in-person care options. In order to create a seamless digital patient experience, hospital systems need a digital front door that presents all the care options available to the patient and allows the patient to filter those options based on their needs. Among the reasons direct-to-consumer healthcare companies are gaining market share so quickly is their products are easy for patients to use, and create an experience that is easy to understand. Transparently communicating things like cost, wait times, and insurance coverage allows patients to find the care they want and keep them coming back to your health system in the future.

None of these are simple challenges but if health systems, and the teams responsible for patient experience and engagement, can recognize the shift in the virtual care landscape and seamlessly integrate virtual care into the patient journey, they will be able to effectively scale their virtual care operations, increase top-line revenue, increase provider productivity, improve access to care, and increase patient satisfaction.

James Bierbower
Director, Marketing
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