Digital healthcare continues to push the boundaries of how healthcare is delivered. Early in the pandemic, telehealth usage surged as consumers and providers sought ways to safely access and deliver healthcare. In April 2020, overall telehealth utilisation for office visits and outpatient care was 78 times higher than in February 2020. But will the telehealth momentum continue in the post-pandemic world?
Strong continued uptake, favourable consumer perception, and tangible investment into this space are all contributing to the continued growth of telehealth. New analysis by Mckinsey indicates that telehealth use in 2022 has increased 38X from the pre-COVID-19 baseline. This step-change, borne out of necessity, was enabled by these factors:
- increased consumer willingness to use telehealth
- increased provider willingness to use telehealth
- regulatory changes enabling greater access and reimbursement.
During the tragedy of the pandemic, telehealth offered a bridge to care, and now it offers a chance to reinvent virtual and hybrid virtual/in-person care models, with the goal of improved healthcare access, outcomes, and affordability.
It is estimated that up to US$250 billion of US healthcare spending could potentially be shifted to virtual or virtually-enabled care. Approaching this potential level of virtual health is not a foregone conclusion. It would likely require sustained consumer and clinician adoption and accelerated redesign of care pathways to incorporate virtual modalities. I believe full-stack consumer health tech companies, operating infrastructure networks of dedicated virtual clinics and cloud pharmacies, are well-positioned to embrace this massive opportunity.
But what does this consumer health tech company look like? Start by imagining that UnitedHealth Group and Google had merged into a new company, and that company has the business model of UHG (a vertically integrated insurer and deliverer of healthcare services) but the sleek consumer experience and brand loyalty of Google. In the past decade, we have seen US-based companies seize this opportunity by building for consumers in healthcare, and many multi-billion dollar full-stack care delivery companies have emerged, including Ro, OneMedical and PillPack.
In the MENA region, Alma Health is already operating a network of virtual clinics and cloud pharmacies in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Cairo and Riyadh to simplify the lives of people living with chronic conditions. Alma Health’s users have never been in person to these clinics or pharmacies, yet they received an end-to-end healthcare experience powered through the mobile application. Our rapidly growing company served thousands of out-of-pocket and insured users. Strong continued uptake, favourable consumer perception, the regulatory environment, and strong investment into this space are all contributing to the company’s growth.
Even with these enablers, challenges remain to be worked through to realise the full potential of virtual care in MENA and globally; the need for better data integration and improved data flows across the various players in the ecosystem is essential. There’s also a need for better integration of the virtual health-related activities into day-to-day workflows of clinicians, to enable fully virtual care models. Finally, an alignment of incentives for virtual health activities with the broader movement toward value-based care is needed, to soften the fee-for-service mentality and the worry about reimbursement parity, especially for the virtual health models that aim to reduce cost of care.
Operating a full-fledged virtual care model is quickly evolving. To fully utilise the model, new ways of working among the virtual and brick-and-mortar providers are needed including a step-change improvement in information exchange and broadening access and integration of technology. Innovations around virtual longitudinal care (both primary and specialty), enablement of care at home through remote patient monitoring and self-diagnostics, investment in “digital front doors,” and experimentation with hybrid “online/offline” models will bring new care models for consumers that help achieve healthcare’s ultimate goal of improved clinical outcomes.
The potential impact is improved convenience and access to care, better patient outcomes, and a more efficient healthcare system.
Khaldoon Bushnaq is the CEO and co-founder of Alma Health.
This article appears in the latest issue of Omnia Health Magazine. Read the full issue online today.