For years, analysts have been predicting the shift toward virtual care, but it was COVID-19 that brought rapid acceleration to the space. While the pandemic has created immense public health challenges, it has also has revealed significant opportunity for employers to transform the role of virtual care and make it central to future benefit strategies.
Since the pandemic began, we’ve seen unprecedented growth in people using telemedicine services like Teladoc and MDLive. According to Mercer’s National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans, 88% of employers had a telemedicine program in 2019 but only 22% had utilization greater than 10%. In the early weeks of the pandemic, employers promoted the use of telemedicine both to triage CV-19 symptoms and as an alternative to in-person visits that would reduce exposure risks. FAIR Health's Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker reports that telemedicine utilization actually grew by more than 4,000% year-over-year in March. And early results from an ongoing Mercer survey show employers reporting high levels of satisfaction with their telemedicine program in terms of response time and member service during the pandemic, with 41% satisfied and 27% very satisfied.
Outside of telemedicine programs, virtual visits between patients and their own doctors has also taken off. Congressional action relaxed security standards and temporarily allowed Medicare reimbursement for virtual visits. HHS even sent instruction kits to providers to help them get set up for virtual visits. As a result, growing numbers of physicians who had never practiced via any form of telehealth technology are now seeing patients virtually every day. And to make this a perfect storm – the good kind -- digital health solutions and telehealth technologies are the fastest-growing areas for investment Healthcare Smart Money VC investors.
This rapid change in health care delivery has created the opportunity to dramatically transform the way we access care in a very meaningful way for patients, providers and payers. But it is up to us to make sure that all goals are aligned properly. Here are some considerations as you start to plan for your health program’s virtual care transformation:
This is only the beginning. Mercer will continue to track the momentum in this space and do our part to ensure that this transformation is beneficial to employers and employees nationwide. Stay tuned!