Telehealth took hold during Covid-19, but the change in care delivery will outlast the pandemic. Driven by new competitive pressures, consumerism, and health care payment reform, many provider organizations continue to invest in telemedicine programs that support virtual patient visits of different kinds. Specifically, spikes in telehealth utilization for physician visits, urgent care, and triage are further shifting care delivery from brick and-mortar sites to digital platforms.
As telehealth adoption accelerates amongst physicians, payers, and telehealth vendors, IDNs will lose market share, direct revenue streams, ownership of patient relationships, and control over patient care. They may also lose their ability to control whether physicians adhere to clinical guidelines and care variation reduction initiatives – directly impacting medical product utilization. Consequentially, IDNs and health systems may start to respond to such shifts by reigning in control over telehealth policies or finding ways to maintain their share-of-wallet.
Moving forward, long-term utilization of telehealth will be heavily dependent on changing regulations, consumer preferences, and coverage and payment decisions—and how IDNs respond to these moves. While Advisory Board analysis estimates that the greatest shifts toward digital-first outpatient care will be in psychiatry, general surgery, dermatology, and pediatrics, nearly all specialties can be impacted. Now that patients have experienced the convenience of and learned to use telehealth, there will be going back.
Impact on life sciences
The impact of telehealth on life sciences’ customer engagement and evidence generation strategies is at an inflection point.
On the one hand, as providers increasingly use telehealth, it’s harder for life sciences leaders not only to engage their customers and have meaningful virtual interactions, but also to identify who has “influence” within organizations. Without insight into how HCPs operate within the context of the broader hospital, health system, or site-of-care, targeting the appropriate decision-makers proves increasingly difficult.
On the other hand, HCPs are already shutting their in-person doors to reps (due to Covid-19 restrictions, burnout, and other factors) – and telehealth creates more opportunities for life sciences leaders to engage their customers remotely and on-demand. Medical device reps may even be able to utilize telehealth to remotely assist with procedures or surgeries. However, whether these virtual interactions complement – or replace – in-person interactions, and how that impacts the relationship between life sciences reps and their customers overall, remains to be determined in the post-Covid world.
Further, as providers embrace remote patient monitoring and other digital tools to track patients outside of the hospital, a plethora of opportunities for real-world data collection arise – especially for longitudinal outcomes tracking, patient reported outcome generation, and the collection of digital biomarker data. Life science leaders can even partner with hospitals and IDNs to identify novel opportunities for data collection and synthesis.
Questions to consider
- How are we identifying and connecting with virtual-first providers? Do we understand which of our customers are increasingly seeing patients virtually, and how that impacts product utilization and clinical care?
- How can we support provider organizations as their physicians increasingly shift towards virtual care? What evidence, information, or wrap-around services do they need to best understand how to use our products?
- How will our customer relationships be impacted if HCPs restrict rep access in the post-Covid world? How will we understand who has influence, who the right decision-makers are, and how to engage these individuals?
- How does increased telehealth use impact referral patterns and patient steerage, and who ultimately provides in-person care? What impacts do those shifts have on who uses our products?
- Have we adapted our communication strategies to better identify and engage virtual-first providers? Are our reps prepared to have engaging and productive virtual-first customer interactions?
- Are we working with hospitals and IDNs to leverage data collected from telehealth and remote patient monitoring to generate real-world evidence? How can we leverage relationships with our top accounts to form collaborative partnerships for evidence generation?