Covid-19 pushed telehealth from one extreme to the other. Pre-Covid, Advisory Board estimates are 1 in 1,000 visits were virtual. But in the height of the crisis, physicians and care teams innovated to provide as much virtual care as possible.
Telehealth visits will naturally recede from this record high but shouldn’t drop back to pre-Covid-19 levels. Virtual care will be necessary for navigating a potential second wave alongside flu season. And telehealth is now a baseline expectation of patients, employers, and payers.
Medical group leaders need to navigate toward the right mix of in-person and virtual care. Groups need to define, for each episode of care, what should be in person, what should be virtual, and what should fluctuate based on patient preference and market conditions.
While it’s tempting to wait for greater clarity about the reimbursement and regulatory environment, groups risk losing momentum from experimentation during the Covid-19 crisis. Traditional competitors and disruptive innovators also accelerated telehealth adoption and are looking to expand their patient base. To navigate during regulatory uncertainty, groups are already increasing the security of interactions to protect patient information. Groups are anticipating that reimbursement for telehealth will fall below rates for in-person visits (except in a few, rare cases) but likely not back to zero.
Treat the early days of Covid-19 as the pilot phase for high-volume virtual care. Identify what worked and what didn’t to create new group-wide standards. This includes both the types of visits but also the telehealth workflow for physicians and the care team.
To win physician buy-in for new telehealth standards:
- Assemble a cross-functional team.
- Limit the time commitment by asking a team to tackle one standard/clinical area and then disband that team and form a new group for the next standard/clinical area.
- Leverage a central team for reviewing exceptions to the standards and making updates along the way
While Covid-19 accelerated physician buy-in for telehealth, acceptance hasn’t been universal. For some physicians, telehealth improved work-life balance. And for physicians with high-risk conditions or those living with people at high-risk, telehealth provided a way to keep practicing. Among the new telehealth champions, groups may designate “virtualists” to help lead telehealth integration with group strategic priorities.