3 Ways to Capture the New Value Differentiator for Telehealth: Quality of Care

Owing in large part to the pandemic, telehealth is growing increasingly popular with consumers.

Today, 81% of consumers believe the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way they receive healthcare, according to a recent survey. Furthermore, 61% of parents are more willing to use telehealth than before the COVID-19 pandemic, including 29% who previously did not use telehealth, according to a survey of 2,000 parents conducted by Nemours Children’s Health and Amwell, a national telehealth provider.

However, as telehealth becomes increasingly routine, healthcare providers must distinguish themselves from the pack with respect to the quality of virtual care delivery. What will this shift look like, and how can healthcare organizations solidify their telehealth value proposition?

Here are some things to keep in mind as your organization seeks to adapt to today’s healthcare landscape.

#1: Focus on Access to Expert Specialist Care, Not Just Routine Care

Chances are your organization already leverages the latest in HIPAA-compliant virtual platforms and technology to offer members the convenience that accompanies virtual visits. But today’s consumers want more: the expertise of the physician on the other side of the screen is becoming more important to them, especially with respect to specialist care and obtaining second opinions for complex conditions.

Indeed, consumers recognize there is a significant difference between consulting with a highly regarded, nationally recognized expert neurologist about their refractory seizures and speaking with a general practitioner at the local hospital. Patients with potentially life-threatening diseases, complex conditions or who are facing major surgeries desire access to the best and most appropriate experts available. For a patient with heart disease, that might mean a physician with the experience that comes with having performed thousands of heart bypass operations and valve replacements.

#2: Double Down on Providing a Comprehensive, End-to-End Patient Experience

Telemedicine services don’t count for much unless everything else surrounding the encounter, from the ease of scheduling appointments through follow-up care, also serves to improve their experience. This includes performing the behind-the-scenes work to eliminate common pain points, such as transferring test results and records of previous visits. It means supporting easier transitions to in-person or hybrid care.

The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic and Anthem Blue Cross, for example, developed a mechanism to quickly and efficiently transfer patient records digitally between and within facilities when members seek virtual second opinions. Contrast this with the antiquated approach of requiring patients to obtain and transport hard copies of their records. Competitive, progressive providers are leveraging the power of virtual care to relieve patients of such tedious and time-consuming tasks, which add to the stress of dealing with their condition.

#3: Establish Next-Level Telehealth Capabilities and Offerings

Recognizing the opportunities to offer their employees better care while reducing their own costs, larger, progressive companies — including Google — are leading a push to obtain upscale telehealth benefits and convenience for their employees. Healthcare providers and health plans are stepping up to the challenge. In recent months, five major insurers have either begun offering or expanding member access to virtual care services through unique partnerships with providers.

For example, in addition to its virtual second opinion partnership with The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic, Anthem Blue Cross collaborates with a virtual care provider to offer concierge-level service for cancer patients. The insurer also has partnered with Boulder Care to offer individual and Medicare Advantage plan members access to a digital substance abuse treatment program. Other examples include CareFirst of Maryland, which has launched a virtual care service that enables members to receive preventive care, urgent care and behavioral health services from in-network specialists through a mobile app.

These and other plans are working with providers to offer telehealth and remote monitoring of patients with chronic conditions such atrial fibrillation and diabetes. Many now enable consumers to access in- and out-of-network providers with less onerous co-pays and deductibles, particularly with respect to obtaining second opinions from recognized experts in their specific conditions.

Taking Virtual Care to the Next Level

A silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic is the focus it has put on the value of telehealth. While most telehealth programs still focus on consultations for routine conditions like headaches, colds and the flu, progressive organizations will be sure to distinguish themselves by taking their virtual care services to the next level of patient care. It’s an approach that will benefit not only those they serve, but also their long-term success.

Peter Rasmussen, MD, is chief clinical officer, The Clinic by Cleveland Clinic, and professor of neurosurgery, Department of Neurosurgery, Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University.