How the virtual care industry will evolve in 2021
In no area of our society has the pandemic caused more upheaval than in the healthcare industry. Hospitals and health systems have been forced to make difficult decisions about staffing and resources in response to the overwhelming number of virus patients, while doctors and patients have embraced virtual-care solutions in unprecedented numbers for COVID- and non-COVID-related issues alike.
Providers are now seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via virtual care solutions than they did before COVID, according to McKinsey, while the number of US consumers using telehealth grew from 11% in 2019 to 46% in 2020. Data from Summus shows the same hockey-stick growth; membership on our platform increased by 1,095% over the course of 2020, while utilization grew by 3.1x.
With the distribution of highly effective COVID vaccines now (shakily) underway, we can be cautiously optimistic that a greater semblance of normalcy will return in the second half of 2021. But some changes will stick, and it’s increasingly clear that virtual care will be a permanent part of the healthcare landscape now that its value has been shown to doctors and patients.
According to data from Summus, 61% of virtual engagements with specialists led to improved patient outcomes, while 96% of virtual engagements helped members become more informed about their options and treatment paths across all stages of care.
Here are my predictions for how the virtual care industry will continue to evolve in 2021:
1. Usage of virtual care will drop and gradually ramp up again
Reliance on virtual care will drop off when people are no longer afraid of going to their doctor’s office for non-urgent issues, but will remain well above pre-2020 levels. The genie is out of the bottle, and consumers now understand that the convenience of virtual care doesn’t have to come at the expense of quality. Consumers also like the access telehealth can provide to specialists outside of their geographic area. At the same time, physicians who were previously skeptical of virtual care have now seen first-hand that it can be a great efficiency driver, and are unlikely to go back to office visits exclusively.
2. Heightened employer focus on quality of virtual care solutions
Increased demand from employees for virtual care solutions will put the onus on HR professionals to be discriminating buyers. It will no longer be good enough to choose the least expensive option and be satisfied for having ticked the telehealth box. A massive amount of capital has poured into the virtual care sector, and solutions with high-quality networks and personalised user experiences will create differentiation among virtual care companies. Moreover, high-quality providers will be selective about which third-party companies they work with. There are only so many hours in the day, and physicians care deeply about maximising efficiency and the impact of their time.
3. Surge in demand for specialty care
A tragic consequence of the pandemic is that it has led to the cancelation or delay of elective surgeries, preventive visits and cancer screenings. This will lead to a wave of new patients in 2021, including people who’ve been exhibiting signs of serious illness but haven’t yet been diagnosed—as well as people with mental illness or substance abuse problems whose treatment routines were disrupted. Once COVID is finally under control, we may see a new health crisis emerge with a surge in patients who require specialty care. Importantly, employers will need to be prepared to manage higher costs associated with an influx of demand for specialty care.
At Summus, the largest areas of growth within specialty care in 2020 were oncology, orthopaedics and complex pediatrics. Along with mental health consultations, Summus saw an average of 50% growth in these areas of care. We’re expecting to see those numbers rise in the first half of 2021 before the expected drop-off and subsequent rebound in adoption of virtual care that I’ve predicted above.
4. Health systems will invest substantially in virtual care
In response to increased consumer affinity for telehealth, which is more cost-effective to deliver, I expect to see health systems continue to move away from expanding their brick-and-mortar presence in favor of sizable investments in their virtual footprints. For example, Cleveland Clinic described telehealth as a core pillar of its growth strategy to double the number of patients it serves. When it announced a new partnership with Amwell last year, it estimated that 50% of outpatient visits would be virtual within five years. Notably, that partnership was announced before the pandemic hit. Given that 76% of healthcare consumers are now interested in using telehealth, I expect the momentum of new partnerships in this vein to pick up substantially.
COVID-19 has permanently altered the healthcare landscape, but the outlook has its bright spots. Based on the positive response from consumers and physicians who embraced telehealth out of necessity at the height of the pandemic, virtual care has staying power and these solutions can help deliver high-quality, consumer-centric care in the future.
Zoom enters the healthcare market - a timeline
Since the pandemic began Zoom has become an integral part of daily life for people working from home, as well as a vital tool for families and friends to communicate. However it's also been eyeing up the healthcare space since 2017, and following the boom in telehealth the company has been rolling out additional services. Here we chart Zoom's move into healthcare.
2011 - 2013
Zoom is founded in San Jose, California, by Eric Yuan, formerly of Cisco. He got the idea to create a video calling platform from his visits to his girlfriend while he was a student, which would take 10 hours by train.
A beta version is released in 2012, which can host up to 15 participants. In 2013 this rises to 25. By mid-2013, Zoom has 1 million users.
2014 - 2017
Zoom attracts investors, including Sequoia Capital, Emergence and Horizon Ventures. By January 2017, Zoom has a series D funding worth $100 million.
2017 - 2019
Zoom for Telehealth launches, including an integration with EHR system Epic. It has cloud-based video, audio, and content sharing features, a "waiting room" for patients, and can easily be integrated into healthcare provider's workflows.
In 2019 Zoom goes public, with its IPO rising 72% in one day.
As a result of the pandemic, Zoom gains 2.2 million new users, more than in the whole of 2019. On the 23rd of March alone - the day the UK lockdown was announced - the platform was downloaded 2.13 million times around the world.
Share prices rise to around $150, and founder and chief executive Eric Yuan becomes one of the world's richest people, with an estimated net worth of $7.9 billion.
Early security issues are addressed by encrypting data with the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). By now the the platform allows 99 people to be on a call simultaneously
New features launch, including Zoom Home and Zoom for Chats. Throughout the year the platform is used to replace most kinds of real life events: work meetings, online classrooms, church services and social events.
Renamed Zoom for Healthcare, users can share secured video, audio, and content through desktops, mobile phones, and conference devices. As well as Epic, it can be integrated with Strmr, IntakeQ, and Practice Better.
It can also be used with diagnostic cameras and other point-of-care devices, including digital stethoscopes.
In an interview with Korea Biomedical Review, Zoom Global Healthcare Lead Ron Emerson said: "Our service is not simply a virtual care and telemedicine platform but a multi-purpose platform that can satisfy the needs of healthcare institutions."
"It can be used for administrative tasks, including telemedicine, medical team meetings, recruitment, medical education, employee training, and disease prevention. Analysing electronic records managed by Zoom could provide meaningful insights into patient care."
Phoenix Children's Hospital, Belfast's Hospital Services Limited, Butler Health Services and the global Project ECHO are among Zoom for Healthcare's current customers.