COVID-19 has transformed telehealth from a “nice-to-have” program that patients, providers, and payers were slow to adopt to an essential element of care delivery. Demands to shelter in place, prevent exposure, and reserve clinical capacity for the sickest patients all point to telehealth solutions. As with all things digital, once consumers adopt it there will be no going back. Unprecedented interest has dramatically accelerated the timeline for hospitals to ramp up and heavily promote their telehealth program — now.
With disappearing revenue and uncertain reimbursement for COVID-19, healthcare providers are under financial duress. As the pandemic recedes, hospitals will be looking to get back on their feet. Telehealth is one way to resume billing and drive utilization before shelter-in-place orders are even lifted.
Less than a year ago, telehealth was still new to most consumers. In a 2019 J.D. Power survey, only 1 out of 10 patients had used telehealth, and nearly 75% said they either didn’t have access or were unaware of telehealth options. Today nearly 70% of consumers on healthgrades.com say they are comfortable using telehealth as an alternative way to meet with their doctor. Some patients may still think their only choice is postponing care, but you can inform them about their new options.
Healthgrades.com recently added a new telehealth services badge that providers can add to their listings. Consumers searching for care options will be able to use telehealth as a filter to quickly find providers they can see remotely — likely expanding their geographic parameters for a televisit.
Demand is soaring not just because both patients and providers are concerned about spreading infection but because insurance companies have stepped up reimbursement. Pre-COVID-19, physicians cited reimbursement as one of the biggest barriers to offering televisits. But current circumstances should close those gaps. Even last year, one in four consumers said they would switch primary care physicians, and despite stereotypes, only 16% of seniors said that technology is a barrier for them.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is offering payment parity for telehealth and has relaxed restrictions on who can access virtual care during the pandemic, but some remain in place. Guidelines are evolving almost daily. At the time of this writing:
- New patients can now be seen without an initial in-person visit, but text messages and phone calls are still ineligible.
- More than 80 additional services can be furnished via telehealth.
- HIPAA requirements have been waived, allowing providers to see patients using Facetime and Skype. Consumers and providers get to leverage familiar platforms that they like, but visit information isn’t integrated with clinical workflows. This waiver is likely one of the first that will be lifted post-COVID-19, but it gives providers time to adopt true telehealth platforms while meeting patient demand and generating income now.
Promote your telehealth services
Launching your telehealth services is just as important as launching a new service line or birthing center. Health systems with mature, successful telehealth programs dedicated significant resources to making their community aware they had convenient, virtual options.
Because your competitors are likely looking into telehealth if they don’t already offer it, now is the time for a strong, omnichannel marketing effort targeting audiences for each service line that will offer telehealth. A true omnichannel launch should include paid search, paid social media, display advertising, email, and TV and, of course, your website. Promote the new service prominently in strategic places on your website anywhere that patients may be looking to schedule an appointment, such as your home page, provider directory, or service line pages. If only some providers offer telehealth, flag them individually as accepting virtual appointments.
Also flag your providers on third-party consumer health sites, including healthgrades.com, which recently added a new telehealth services badge that providers can add to their listings. Consumers searching for care options will be able to use telehealth as a filter to quickly find providers they can see remotely — likely expanding their geographic parameters for a televisit. Remember that consumers searching for a doctor on healthgrades.com are more likely to appoint — in this case, for telehealth — than someone viewing a Facebook or Google ad, although those channels are valuable for awareness.
Demand for telehealth solutions arose from the need to triage consumers who think they or a loved one may have COVID-19 and tell them what to do based on an assessment of their condition and risk. Whether you’re doing that via call center, nurse triage, or chatbot, more than ever telehealth is your hospital’s virtual front door. Especially during the pandemic, patient experience matters. If you answer their COVID-19 questions quickly and give them reliable advice, consumers who turn to you now are more likely to return for future healthcare needs, either virtually or in person.
Telehealth went from being almost non-existent pre-COVID-19 to leaving providers scrambling to meet consumer expectations in just a few months. With adoption and reimbursement issues being resolved, telehealth is poised to take off. Going forward, it will be central to your patient acquisition and engagement strategy. More broadly, it will be a key element of your healthcare ecosystem, for patient access, care delivery, and care management. How will broad adoption of telehealth impact each stage of the healthcare consumer experience? As marketers, we must develop new strategies to address post-COVID-19 realities quickly.
Watch Coronavirus Town Hall with Providers on Telehealth
Featuring providers discussing how they are activating and promoting telehealth to consumers and physicians