COVID-19 has compelled the medical community to adopt new technologies and telehealth. Even policymakers have recognized the need for flexibility at this time. But will these new policies be able to withstand “going back to normal”?

Will this year’s success be enough to carry us forward to continue expanding telehealth and easier access? Over the years, virtual care has been steadily growing, and COVID-19 kicked that expansion into high-gear. However, many clinics still face barriers and uncertainty when it comes to offering virtual medical care options.

Up-front costs lead to more savings down the road

Implementing new technology systems can be a costly endeavor, especially for larger healthcare systems. New tools and workflows require additional training for staff members. In order to make a lasting change, these technologies need to be durable, versatile, and have a low learning curve.

Increased access not only benefits patients but also allows healthcare professionals to provide care without as many overhead costs. A 2019 study found that by using virtual care, providers could save up to $121 per visit, while still being able to address patients’ health concerns. Most of these savings came from keeping non-emergency patients out of the ER by giving them an easy alternative to quickly access medical help.

Additionally, around 16 percent of patients surveyed indicated that if virtual care were not an option, they would not have sought care. But by ignoring medical issues, there is a strong potential that patients would need more costly care down the road. Because these patients had access to virtual care, they were able to address their symptoms and concerns quickly.

Virtual treatment options empower physicians

Patients are not the only ones who benefit from virtual care options. Providers also see many benefits, including better workflow, increased revenue, and options to work remotely. Furthermore, providers are seeing a greater work-life balance with virtual care – an area of growing concern when as many as 42 percent of physicians report feeling burned out. Many of those surveyed responded that having greater control over their schedules would increase their work satisfaction, a feat that is achievable with the adoption of virtual care.

With all these benefits, why is virtual care use already starting to decline?

According to a survey of 50,000 clinicians, virtual health care visits peaked in April 2020, but have been declining ever since. With initial costs, it may be that larger clinics were more easily able to implement innovative technologies, while smaller practices faced greater financial barriers. With continuing uncertainty, these practices are now facing even greater constraints. Additionally, national regulation changes to help increase virtual care during the pandemic have an expiration date, making it harder for clinicians to gauge future returns on a high up-front cost.

“The pressures may be great to return to entrenched practices of the past. Much of that will come from the same forces that restricted virtual care in the first place — payment and regulation. Unspoken is the inherent reduction in utilization and therefore cost that comes with the barriers of delay, travel, and lack of medical access. Initial costs will prevail over benefit and long-term cost savings,” stated Dr. Patrick Quinlan, CEO and co-founder of Hippo Technologies.

The path forward

While uncertainties are likely to persist as we head into the colder months of 2020, telehealth’s history of expansion should put many providers at ease. Virtual care has a proven track record of increasing access to care, lowering costs for patients, improving outcomes, decreasing the number of missed appointments, and improving adherence to medical advice. Virtual care options are also improving medical education, device training, and are saving lives in the field.

At Hippo, we are helping bring providers and patients into the future by providing virtual care options to enhance clinical effectiveness, improve collaboration, and provide easy access to care and information. Our plug-and-play design allows for quick deployment and can seamlessly integrate with third-party applications. The open API helps to future-proof our platform, increasing the value of up-front investments in an adaptable product that will last for years to come.

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