These days, there are surely some interesting dynamics at play. And no, I’m not talking about the post-election dynamics or the holidays during a full-blown health crisis. I am talking about the forces at play at this very moment, preparing for the inevitable time later in 2021 when politics and everyday life are for the most part stable again. The Telehealth Landscape is about to change – dramatically.
Pandora’s Box is Open Wide
Covid-19 certainly demonstrated the feasibility of virtual care delivery and it is understood by most in healthcare that a wide-spread use of telehealth is here to stay. Still, many voices in the “traditional” care delivery system still wish that things could go back to “normal” and continue to believe that telehealth “didn’t really work”. But when you peel back the layers behind such statements, what I often found is a self-fulfilling prophecy: because they did not think it was going to work, they found evidence when it did not work.
For this very reason for over 10 years I’ve been implementing telemedicine services in health systems starting with the champions, the early adopters. Those who believed in telehealth as a viable clinical tool – not a replacement for in-person visits, but another tool in their tool chest to deliver extraordinary care.
As I’ve said in last week’s article: the comparison should be between “no access to care” and “access to virtual care”. But statistics on “no access to care” are hard to come by, because you cannot count what did not happen. So it’s hard to measure the true value of having access. Though we did see that during the height of Covid-19 infections when patients would rather have no visit.
But let me today focus on some other dynamics at play, that in my opinion are presenting a big threat to healthcare as we know it. I’m talking about the increasing, as I call it, “shadow healthcare system”, that is now forming and rapidly expanding.
Here are just a few select clues that the landscape as a whole is about to change dramatically:
Amazon.care started out in 2019 with an isolated pilot in Seattle as an experimental, alternative tool to lower the cost of care for some of Amazon’s workers. As expected, just after the launch a year ago, Amazon.care now opened its membership to all Amazon employees and dependents within the state of Washington. It’s not a big step from there to offering the service to all residents in Washington state.
Walmart Health offers in-store access to care, starting as low as $30 per visit. It is thereby in direct competition with similar services at CVS and Walgreens who are all ultimately in competition with the local health system that is relying on “standard visits”. While Walmart Health at the moment is not offering virtual services, it is only a small leap to that next level of care delivery.
Healthcare.Bestbuy.com is the final new player in the healthcare market to round out our trio of retailers getting in on the healthcare market. It is combining it’s tech expertise, it’s mobile geek squad and its vast footprint to offer better access to care and home monitoring.
Add to that list the sheer number of well-funded mainstream telemedicine services (e.g., AmWell, MDLive, Teladoc or Dr. On Demand) and the up and new-comers (Heal, Wheel, 98point6, etc.) as well as numerous new niche players (such as OrthoLive, DorsalHealth or Kaia Health in the musculoskeletal field) and you get the sense that the buffet of telehealth offerings will become highly crowded and competitive very soon (if it isn’t already).
In addition, numerous digital health solutions companies that traditionally have not been in the telehealth space, are now actively working on augmenting or expanding their solutions to enable the delivery of care at a distance.