By Mauricio Sirvent, Executive Vice President, Care Delivery – Neurology & Psychiatry, SOC Telemed
The telehealth industry expanded access to care at a critical moment in U.S. history when the pandemic spread across the country and limited a patient’s ability to visit their physician in person. It might be easy to think that signs from the post-pandemic economy may be a potential endpoint for growth in telemedicine. Why would the need for telemedicine be as great when you can resume your prior routine?
That is the position of one former benefits manager recently quoted in the Wall Street Journal who played down the growth potential for the industry: “Telemedicine is a fantastic medium, but if it’s just late-night urgent care, it’s kind of a commodity.”
But such a viewpoint is misguided, as the post-pandemic future continues to look bright, despite the CDC’s projection of a sharp decline in Covid-19 cases by July. How bright?
A recent McKinsey study on the post-pandemic potential for telemedicine suggested that growth from a $3 billion industry to a $250 billion industry is within reach.
Why? In short, because people are becoming more comfortable with remote care. One surprising outcome of the pandemic has been telemedicine’s exposure to physicians and hospitals around the country. This growing familiarity is accelerating understanding of what telemedicine can bring to care delivery in their practice.
There were many times in the years prior to 2020 that I encountered resistance to remote technology from ER and ICU physicians.
“You can’t do the same thing remotely that I do by being here,” they would say. And, they were right in some cases. Indeed, telemedicine physicians cannot perform invasive procedures remotely. It’s impossible to set a broken bone or repair a laceration via telemedicine.
But that “telemedicine is limited” worldview started to change during the pandemic, as emergency doctors came to realize they needed creative ways to deliver care safely. With resources dedicated to fighting Covid-19, hospitals also needed support in areas of the hospital beyond the ED.
I suspect that for these reasons, many physicians around the country began engaging with telemedicine for the first time in 2020. Their growing comfort with telemedicine as a solution is evident in the McKinsey study. Fifty-seven percent of physicians view telemedicine more favorably than before the pandemic, and 64% say they are more comfortable using such technologies.
Physicians aren’t the only ones growing more comfortable with telemedicine as a solution in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis. The same study indicates that consumers are also growing increasingly comfortable with the flexibility that remote medicine offers their care planning. While only 11% of consumers reported using telehealth in 2019, 76% are open to using it in the future.
The rise of primary care telemedicine among consumers in 2020 mirrored something like the rise of UberEats or DoorDash; growth by necessity during the pandemic, leading an emergent industry to a decade of progress in a matter of weeks.
In that same context, it’s perhaps better to consider telemedicine as a market-enabling force—the mechanism by which healthcare itself transforms from service to consumer experience—rather than a simple commodity.
There will be greater end-user acceptance of telemedicine in the acute space among patients in emergency rooms and ICUs because they already experienced it for less serious healthcare interactions.
The pandemic made telemedicine far less niche than it was in the year prior. The federal government lowered regulatory barriers, and insurers loosened payment barriers for hospitals. Together these effects enabled telemedicine to operate as a fully integrated part of the healthcare delivery system.
As we slowly begin to return to hospitals operating under normal conditions, look for more hospitals to incorporate critical care telemedicine not as a replacement for onsite doctors but as a complement to them. The best health systems will lead the pack in telemedicine technology integration efforts, building enterprise-level technology platforms into their existing workflows seamlessly. This will help them provide a superior experience and to grow market share in a competitive landscape.
Consider rural hospitals in America that together face severe specialist shortages. Acute care telemedicine platforms provide an effective tool for extending a specialist’s reach in areas where they do not reside. Many smaller hospitals can retain clinical programs like neurology and cardiology, which increases patient retention, reduces unnecessary transfers due to specialty coverage being available, and creates a positive financial impact by increasing the case mix index.
The fact is that even in a post-pandemic medical landscape, telemedicine can help. As hospital systems continue to expand their reach further out into the more rural communities and as the population of U.S. physicians continues to age, the need for expanded and specialized coverage in hospitals will continue to grow.
With a continuing return to normalcy in healthcare as an industry, we can now focus our efforts on expanding telemedicine service lines and offerings and building programs that help hospitals run more efficiently and provide more comprehensive care.
Telemedicine is a viable long-term solution to some of the biggest problems facing hospitals in the future. The end of the pandemic doesn’t spell the end of telemedicine, nor make it a commodity. The industry is far closer to its infancy than it is to its conclusion.
Mauricio Sirvent serves as Executive Vice President of Care Delivery, focusing on the strategic growth and alignment of neurology and psychiatry services for SOC Telemed.
As a key executive for the company’s care delivery offerings, Mauricio supports SOC Telemed physicians and partner hospitals to ensure quality of care is delivered to patients in an effective and streamlined manner.
Mauricio has more than 30 years of experience leading and advising health care organizations, with an emphasis on operational efficiencies. Mauricio joined SOC Telemed through its acquisition of NeuroCall in 2017, a teleNeurology company accredited by The Joint Commission, where he served as CEO. He is a former CEO and CFO of Kendall Regional Medical Center and was responsible for the development of its teleNeurology service program as part of the hospital’s journey to become a Primary Stroke Center accredited by The Joint Commission. Mauricio was also the former CFO and COO of the multi-specialty Faculty Practice Plan associated with the Florida International University College of Medicine and has held other executive roles in healthcare administration and healthcare-related industries.
Mauricio holds a B.S. in Accounting from St. John’s University.