Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth companies are seeing an unprecedented increase in growth, volume and funding opportunities.
Will it last?
That question will almost certainly come down to the payment flexibilities on telehealth that have been introduced by the federal government and other payers during this pandemic. Will those flexibilities be permanent, or will they expire once the public health emergency is over? Legislators in the House have introduced multiple bills aiming to ensure telehealth flexibilities remain in place beyond the pandemic.
eVisit, a telehealth company in Mesa, Arizona, is one of the beneficiaries of the increased technology adoption by health care providers. Chief executive Bret Larsen tells Health Evolution that they have seen a 300 percent year-over-year growth in revenue and a tenfold increase in volume. “From late March on, we’ve been working 80-100-hour weeks to keep up with the demand and scale appropriately on the infrastructure side,” Larsen says.
Larsen recently spoke with us about how COVID-19 has changed the game for telehealth, the biggest lessons health care CEOs are learning in the rapid adoption of the technology, what comes next and more. Below are excerpts from this conversation.
Health Evolution: How has COVID 19 changed the game for telehealth?
Bret Larsen: When this first happened and people said, “Telehealth was changed forever,” I was slightly skeptical. But everything I’ve seen makes me think we’ll be navigating this through the next 12 to 18 months. Health systems are really being forced to look at the operational muscle they are putting behind their virtual care strategy.
One of the biggest adjustments has been the payment landscape. The shift CMS has made around how providers get paid for telehealth and virtual care has really shifted how health systems and hospitals are thinking about application of those workflows within their operations. Health systems are looking for ways to accelerate their virtual care strategy because of the shift in elective surgeries and the impact that’s had on their revenue and profitability.
Health Evolution: What conversations have you been having with health care CEOs?
Larsen: The conversations I’m having with CEOs is that they have a COVID workflow locked down and it’s helping mitigate the drop in patient volume, now how do they apply this to dermatology? How do they apply it to other specialties? It’s seen as a nice to have, not a must have. They want to get those specialty volumes back up to pre-pandemic levels.
They also want to know how to apply this into a post-discharge situation for non-elective surgeries, so they can mitigate risk around the virus. A lot of conversations are centered around how care is transitioned to the home. That is being accelerated by COVID, but it was happening before too because the margins to a hospital’s operating models are not sustainable.
Health Evolution: What have been some challenges?
Larsen: By and large, the challenge is in how care is delivered. Providers can’t get their hands on the patient. It’s not always necessary, but it certainly makes it easier in a lot of circumstances. We’ve built a training around web side manner and how to navigate those interactions. How to instruct a patient on taking their own pulse or blood pressure reading. But doctors and caregivers have to adjust to the new normal of delivering their services in a different medium than they’ve done before.
Health Evolution: What are the biggest lessons to come out of this pandemic?
Larsen: The biggest lesson is that this is where health care needs to be going. Historically, health care has moved at a different pace. The mantra is “do no harm.” That’s the right way to approach it. When you’re dealing with someone’s life, you don’t want to take on unnecessary risk. But one lesson to come out of this is there’s a way to navigate and accelerate innovation while still protecting patients.
Another major lesson to come out of this is the delivery model needs to change. COVID is accelerating it, but the reality is it needed to change for a while.
Another lesson is the doctor-patient relationship with local health care infrastructure is extremely important. The outcomes that a locally, relevant provider can deliver are different than that of a national provider based in a call center in New York or Texas. Those lessons on how health systems adjust their strategy and continue to develop their relationship with the patient are some of the big lessons to come out of this. And they can actually impact the bottom line.