Will Telehealth Outlast the Pandemic After a Vaccine?
The short answer to this question is, "Probably"!
That is something of a non-answer based on the fact that no one can see into the future, and if they could they would have made a fortune in mask sales. However, there is some research to suggest that telehealth will indeed outlast the pandemic after a vaccine is made publicly available and administered en masse.
Let's look at some of the high-level information coming out of the world's largest management consulting companies, Bain and Mckinsey.
According to Bain and Co 80% of doctors expect to use telehealth at the same rate or greater than they are using telehealth currently. There are very few doctors that don't expect telehealth to supplement their work in some way after a vaccine is made readily available. According to their research, Bain found the following statistics:
57% of primary care doctors believe that they will use telehealth more than they do now
48% of Medical oncologists believe that they will use telehealth more than they do now
45% of Endocrinologists believe that they will use telehealth more than they do now
43% of General surgeons believe that they will use telehealth more than they do now
43% of Noninterventional cardiologists believe that they will use telehealth more than they do now
42% of Orthopedic surgeons believe that they will use telehealth more than they do now
37% of Neurosurgeons believe that they will use telehealth more than they do now
36 % of Cardiac surgeons believe that they will use telehealth more than they do now
However, the big finding that Bain made was that 92% of all specialties believe that they will use telehealth platforms will be used in follow-up or routine care. The question is why would doctors and medical provider believe that telehealth will continue to be a reality if a vaccine is widely accepted and administered.
There are a couple of reasons why telehealth will continue to be used and innovation will continue in the area of telehealth.
First, CMS has issued new guidance opening up telehealth services in all 50 states. According to Bain, "The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued new guidance in March, expanding coverage and reimbursement for Medicare beneficiaries across all 50 states. Historically, coverage has been available mostly to beneficiaries living in rural locales and at different reimbursement rates than in-person visits. Going forward, providers will need to demonstrate to payers that they can generate a favorable return on investment for telehealth services to keep rate levels favorable. That could include proving that telemedicine costs less than in-person visits or provides better outcomes."
This is an important piece of thought-leadership because it means that Bain believes that insurance reimbursement rates for telehealth services could actually decrease for a number of reasons:
Insurance rates could decrease with widespread telehealth use because the equation that most payers and CMS uses to calculate fee schedules is significantly based on the expenses to run a practice. This means that if practices see significantly reduced expenses, the reimbursement rates will decrease
Insurance rates could decrease with widespread telehealth use due to the fact that most insurance companies are starting to move to a value-based system. This means that insurance companies will alter their reimbursement rates based on symptom reduction or remission. If providers do not learn to adapt to a value-based system they will likely see a decrease in insurance rates
Insurance rates could decrease with widespread telehealth use because of the cost incurred on the insurance company to manage and process telehealth claims. Some insurance companies require providers to use the insurance company's telehealth platform. Using a telehealth platform required by the insurance incurs costs on the part of the provider and the insurance company
Regardless of what the impact of telehealth is on reimbursement rates, the reality is that most of the country has adopted telehealth at scale. According to Mckinsey and Co, the annual revenue for all telehealth players before April of 2020 was $3 billion, but as of September of 2020, the annual revenue for all telehealth players is roughly $250 billion. This is an incredible increase in the space of 1 year!
It is unlikely that the telehealth companies that have made a mint on this advent are going to give that up anytime soon. Therefore, be aware that telehealth may be around for the longterm based on the financial markers that are demonstrating that telehealth will continue to be a mainstay of private practice.
The second reason why telehealth will continue to outlast the pandemic is that the rate of adoption of telehealth services at the consumer level.
According to Mckinsey and co, 11% of consumers used a telehealth platform for some kind of health-related service prior to April of 2020. However, after April of 2020, nearly 52% of healthcare consumers are now using a telehealth modality to receive their healthcare. Obviously, the globe was thrust into a position where the widespread adoption of telehealthcare is now a normal way to receive services, but one cannot ignore that the convenience that telehealth provides may lend to longevity in this modality.
Don Miller, the author of Building a StoryBrand, argues that people are built to burn as few calories as possible, so if there is a way to receive services that require fewer calories and inconvenience, then it would follow that telehealth will continue to serve a significant role in the healthcare field in general.
Anecdotally, Practice Solutions has observed that there have been fewer cancellations during the pandemic than there were before the pandemic. This may indicate that people need therapy to a higher degree during the pandemic and that access to mental healthcare was greater during the pandemic than before the pandemic.
It is fair to say that convenience and widespread adoption of telehealth tools are a factor in propelling telehealth technology to the front of healthcare innovation and service delivery.
The last reason why telehealth will continue after the vaccine is that more people in harder to reach areas will continue to be served by providers using telehealth. There is not a doubt that there is an access problem to mental health in America. However, with the advent of telehealth technology and the widespread adoption of this technology more people with less access to mental health services can receive the very needed services that they need.
Providers are working very hard to make sure that they are adapting to the changes facing the healthcare world and patients are changing along with them. Because of the high demand for mental health services providers are changing at a high rate.
While there is a lot to learn for the future and the future of the mental health field, it is very likely that telehealth will continue to be a feature of mental health in the United States. Continue to stay engaged with the literature coming out and continue to advocate for the mental health field.
If you find that you are struggling to understand how to pivot through the change in the industry, be sure to check out our other resources or feel free to reach out to talk through any questions or concerns that you might have.