Erica Jain

Healthcare delivery 2.0 — Telehealth beyond the virtual visit

January 03, 2023
By Erica Jain

The COVID pandemic dramatically accelerated the adoption of telehealth, which has increasingly played a critical role in access to healthcare services for a wide range of patients. This is a strong positive outcome for our healthcare system, and the industry continues to expand this new mode of care delivery. Telehealth has been proven to reduce costs of care, lead to better health outcomes for patients, and deliver better experiences for both clinicians and clients.

We are now living in Telehealth 2.0: telehealth beyond the video visit. Innovative healthcare organizations are leveraging technology to drive long-term patient relationships and build fundamentally better patient experiences. What does this mean for the industry, and how do we build on the momentum created by COVID-19 for this needed innovation?

The pandemic permanently boosted telehealth adoption
When the pandemic hit, the entire healthcare system was forced to roll out virtual visits overnight. Hospitals at overcapacity with COVID-19 patients migrated other patients to video visits for routine follow-ups, nondiagnostic procedures, and wellness check-ups. Similar changes were rolled out by clinics, doctor’s offices, and others to address COVID infection concerns by providers and patients alike. The result was that, across many healthcare settings, patients who needed to meet with a healthcare professional had no choice but to download an app of their provider’s choosing to connect.

As a result, telehealth visits rose by nearly 80x between February and April 2020, and even after that initial spike, telehealth visits stabilized at a rate 38 times higher than pre-pandemic levels, all of this according to a McKinsey study.

Fortunately, the industry quickly realized that telehealth’s convenience and positive impact on access meant that both patients and providers alike viewed telehealth more favorably than before the pandemic. Rapid, permanent shifts to Medicare and Medicaid regulations have also fostered wider acceptance and reimbursement for telehealth.

For all of these reasons, the past three years have seen unprecedented levels of investment in virtual care. Venture investment in digital health more than doubled in 2021, to an all-time high of $29 billion, and the industry shows very few signs of slowing down. Healthcare is a trillion industry overdue for sweeping innovation, and we are top of the first inning relative to the changes we’ll continue to see in coming years. Telehealth has proven to be a pillar of this wave of innovation.

In short, telehealth is here to stay.

Introducing telehealth 2.0: From the video visit to longitudinal care
Perhaps the largest benefit of the momentum in virtual-care adoption is that, two-plus years later, we are seeing unprecedented levels of innovation in healthcare — an industry long overdue for disruption. Thousands of new and growing companies are harnessing billions of dollars in investment to build upon the existing benefits of telehealth. Health systems, payors, and employers alike have quickly recognized that virtual healthcare delivery can improve many aspects of the industry, for example by preventing costly ER admissions for issues that can be resolved virtually.

Beyond that, virtual-first companies are offering digital services in areas like nutrition counseling, pregnancy care, and behavioral health to create better outcomes for their clients while reducing systemic costs.

In this setting, the actual video visit is just one component — even a fairly small component — of the overall patient experience, which stretches across many synchronous and asynchronous interactions. For example, patients can participate in online programs and educational webinars to increase their own knowledge. Meanwhile, they also benefit from regular virtual reviews by clinicians to ensure that they are adhering to goals and making steady progress with their personalized care plans.

This is what the future of what healthcare delivery should look like. Because of its affordability and convenience, telehealth is ideal for helping clinicians across many specialties effectively address longitudinal aspects of an individual's health journey and, crucially, to do it with much greater continuity. That combines the power of technology with the expertise of a healthcare team to create new and better patient experiences — and health outcomes. Not only is this better for keeping patients in better health, but programs like these often foster exactly the type of provider-patient relationships that many consumers actively want.

Towards the future: Building on unprecedented momentum
Now is the time to build on the momentum of Telehealth 2.0 and usher in this new way of delivering care as the new norm, not an exception. In the past, insightful approaches like these have been badly under-represented, not to mention under-billed. Today, however, new technology and changed expectations from patients and clinicians make it easier than ever for healthcare providers to create virtual-first longitudinal care programs.

Increased investment means that there are more tech-first infrastructure companies that are building foundational platforms that enable virtual-first care. This means that healthcare delivery organizations do not need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to features like scheduling, EMR fundamentals, and engagement back-end, plus integrating with other business and clinical tools that these companies need for success. As a result, virtual-first care delivery companies are able to focus on care delivery, clinical outcomes, and differentiating models to provide better access to healthcare.

Most importantly, this new generation of healthcare infrastructure is replacing out-dated, care limited paradigm of building walls across data. For decades, legacy tech vendors have defended their own proprietary approaches while resisting interoperability, locking in their customers and their profit margins — yet also effectively inhibiting patient care. Now is the time for collectively building bridges for data access, prioritizing interoperability and collaboration.

About the author: Erica Jain is the CEO and cofounder of Healthie, where she builds healthcare infrastructure to power virtual-first healthcare delivery. She works closely with digital health organizations to design solutions that deliver comprehensive and effective modern healthcare solutions.