Disrupting the Disruptors: Why Health Systems Must Speed Up Deployment of Virtual Care Solutions

Updated on May 24, 2024

Plagued by long waits for in-person appointments, even for routine issues like annual check-ups or prescription renewal, patients have become increasingly frustrated at the state of healthcare in the U.S. The COVID-19 pandemic paired with new or expanded reimbursements drove greater acceptance and faster adoption of virtual care. While that helped address some of the demand, there is still a shortage of doctors and a backlog of services that have prevented patients from getting the care they need, when they need it.

These shortcomings presented a huge opportunity for non-traditional providers. Major retailers, like Amazon and Walgreens, jumped at the opportunity to offer direct-to-consumer telehealth services. And we’ve seen the rise of new niche telehealth companies – Virta (type 2 diabetes management), Maven (fertility and maternity care), Him & Hers Health Inc. (men’s and women’s health), Calibrate (weight loss) and a slew of virtual mental health brands – to offer digital care for specific conditions. 

From a healthcare consumer perspective, there’s great appeal for these new offerings. They’re convenient, always available and sometimes offered at a much lower out-of-pocket cost compared to an office visit. These attributes are driving rapid growth. Direct-to-consumer telehealth offerings are expected to almost double to nearly $521 million by 2031. This growth shouldn’t come as a surprise, either. Many patients say they prefer virtual care to in-office appointments. One survey showed that as many as 41% would choose telehealth for minor issues, and 46% preferred it for ongoing management of chronic conditions. 

Disrupting the Healthcare Industry…and Continuity of Care

There’s no doubt that direct-to-consumer telehealth programs, like Amazon Clinic, have irreversibly challenged traditional healthcare delivery models, promising convenience and affordability for patients. Yet the use of these programs may ultimately cost more time and money – particularly for patients with chronic care needs. One analysis noted that more than 11% of direct-to-consumer initiated telehealth visits nationally over the course of one year resulting in patients having to follow up with an in-person visit with their provider for the same clinical issue within one week. These duplicate visits were most prevalent for patients with behavioral health diagnoses and select chronic conditions. Additionally, the analysis noted that as a result of scheduling difficulties for in-person appointments and provider supply, it was expected that the proportion of in-person visits would be even greater if they had examined follow-ups done within two to four weeks. 

Direct-to-consumer programs also can cause a disconnect between patients and their doctors. Retail and niche offerings create data silos that make it difficult for a doctor to have a holistic picture of the patient’s health. Incomplete medical histories make it even more difficult for doctors to make informed medical decisions. Without the full picture, it’s impossible for providers to ensure patients receive comprehensive care, which can potentially result in duplication, misdiagnosis, or harmful drug interactions. 

Finding a Balance for High-Quality, Holistic Patient Care

Patients are clearly embracing new ways to receive convenient, timely, and cost-effective care. Direct-to-consumer offerings have filled the void when their regular providers cannot deliver what they need. But that doesn’t mean that traditional health systems are not a consumer’s first choice. What they need to do is rise to meet healthcare consumers’ needs. And fast. 

The key for health systems is to find a way to innovate and move faster in deploying virtual care models. Many already started with telehealth during the pandemic, but they cannot stop there. Health systems need to add other virtual services, such as remote physiologic monitoring (RPM), in order to compete and retain their patients in this rapidly evolving and increasingly competitive market.

Tying RPM into standard offerings is particularly important for the nearly half of patients who indicated they would prefer to leverage telehealth for managing chronic conditions. RPM is ideally suited to help patients with diabetes, hypertension, heart failure, obesity, and other conditions that require frequent visits to their providers.

With RPM, physicians are able to monitor their patients across the continuum – from the clinic to the home – providing an enhanced picture of their health by collecting daily metrics such as blood pressure, blood glucose, weight, pulse oximetry, and more. Adding connected devices that can be used at home will provide doctors with daily data, rather than a snapshot of their health limited to an office visit. This continual stream of information makes it possible for doctors to proactively adjust patients’ medication or care plans between regularly scheduled appointments. By having their medical history and RPM data in one place, patients are more likely to see better outcomes since their doctors will have a comprehensive view of their health. 

In fact, a recent survey from Desert Oasis Healthcare, which surveyed over 250 patients who are remotely monitored for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and heart failure, found that 70% of participants believe RPM enabled them to better manage their health conditions. Additionally, 90% said that adding RPM supplemented their face-to-face appointments, making these visits more valuable, and in some cases, replacing the need for frequent in-person appointments altogether.

The growing number of retail and niche direct-to-consumer healthcare options are helpful for consumers seeking fast, cost-effective care – and consumers are now choosing these options over regular providers because of the convenience. However, while these are good for acute issues, going to multiple providers that do not share patient information and medical histories for chronic conditions may not result in the quality of care. 

With strategic additions of new virtual health offerings, like televisits and RPM, health systems have the opportunity to regain a competitive advantage in this growing market. Innovation to meet the demands of healthcare consumers will enable health systems to provide their patients with a one-stop shop that can meet all of their healthcare needs and deliver a more comprehensive experience to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Lucienne Marie Ide
Lucienne Ide
Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Rimidi

Lucienne Marie Ide, M.D., PH.D., is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Rimidi, a leading clinical management platform designed to optimize clinical workflows, enhance patient experiences and achieve quality objectives. She brings her diverse experiences in medicine, science, venture capital and technology to bear in leading Rimidi’s strategy and vision. Motivated by the belief that we can do so much better as individuals, in industry and society, Lucie left clinical medicine to join the ranks of healthcare entrepreneurs who are trying to revolutionize an industry.