Here are three recent quotes which would have been unbelievable in January. “We realise now that we can manage with half the 140 consulting rooms we had planned” Henrik Schødts, deputy CEO, Nordsjællands Hospital. “We have seen telehealth rise 500%” Arjan Toor, CEO, Cigna Europe. “We are doing 80% of our emergency consultations by telehealth,” Dr Peter Thomas, director of digital innovation and consultant paediatric ophthalmologist, Moorfields Eye Hospital, London.
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These comments illustrate just how far the world has changed with COVID.
Take the big private insurers. For years they have been pushing apps at their clients. In an ideal world, they want their clients to contact them directly. That achieves two things. First, it means their patient journey can be guided by the payor to the most cost-effective route. Secondly, a good app should radically change clients’ image of the insurer. No longer are they obstructive administrators standing in the way of care instead they become the gateway, the first port of call when you have a health issue. They move from being health insurers to health providers.
But app take-up rates have been low – often no better than 4-5%. COVID changed all that. Cigna, for instance, saw a 500% rise in telehealth calls as a result. What is striking is that this figure today is almost the norm.
The other big change will be a huge acceleration in the move to asset-light outpatient services. Telehealth in the Danish example above means that outpatient network property assets can be halved.
Finally, the growth of telehealth means that specialist operators can have much larger market reach If 80% of emergency consultations (Accident and Emergency) at Moorfields are by telehealth, then the centre has suddenly created a national and international footprint.
We think that there is no going back from this new world. As Toor at Cigna points out once patients have used telehealth and talked directly from their homes to an expert from their own country they do not want to go back to face-to-face. The medical profession may not like it but the telehealth genie is now out of the bottle.
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