Did you know the first recorded telehealth appointment took place in 1959? Over the course of the last six decades, the amount of work that has been done to harness the power of technological innovations to deliver quality care is astonishing. Important considerations, such as the best ways to partner with the broader healthcare ecosystem, how to provide clinical quality at scale regardless of geography, and – of course – how to meet (and beat) consumer expectations, are just a few of the highlights.
We’ve also seen new technologies and new entrants in the virtual care or telehealth industry on a regular basis, all promising to disrupt the healthcare industry. In fact, I recently heard someone say that healthcare has more pilots than the airline industry. Yet, few have cemented themselves or their ability to scale in a way that truly moves the needle on long-term health outcomes.
So what does it take to make it, what standards should we use to measure success, and what can virtual care companies really do to transform the way healthcare is delivered? Throughout my tenure at a virtual care company that serves more than 85 million people and provides benefits to more than half of the Fortune 500, here are the five guiding principles we never compromise on, letting us enable virtual care to realize its full potential. As you look to identify the right virtual care partner for your employees, these five competency areas are critical to evaluate.
#1: Prioritizing a connected and integrated consumer experience.
An integrated healthcare experience is vital in today’s healthcare landscape. An individual’s physical and mental conditions are intertwined and need to be viewed holistically. Plus, as consumers continue to crave and demand convenient access to care, in conjunction with a rise in chronic conditions and mental health concerns, your employees need a single-entry point to manage the broadest array of all their health needs.
Why is this key?
- 78% of consumers today prefer a single, unified experience to manage all of their needs1. Meeting this consumer demand increases overall engagement rates. With too many apps and services at play, we risk users feeling fatigued and disengaging from their health altogether.
- 40% of US adults live with 2 or more chronic conditions2, 85% of people living with diabetes struggle with hypertension, obesity, or mental health needs3, and the number of individuals with multiple chronic conditions is rising at an unprecedented rate, nearly tripling from 30.8 million to 83.4 million in the next decade4. Consumers and providers need to see the full picture to properly treat these conditions in tandem.
We have found that technology must fit into your employees’ daily lives by personalizing the healthcare experience based on their unique health data and specific condition history. This enables frequent engagement, which is critical to keeping a member active in their health journey. As a result, we’ve seen that our Teladoc Health chronic care programs have the industry’s highest enrollment and retention rates. The higher the rates, the more your virtual care partner can do to improve population health on a broader scale.
Lastly, our proprietary clinical workflow integrations give our care teams access to a holistic view of the member – something that is not attainable across disparate health apps, nor in brick-and-mortar care settings where care teams are often operating independently in silos. We also share medical records with consumers’ in-person providers to ensure everyone has a 360-degree view of all provider interactions. This is why it is crucial to look for a partner who has prioritized integration. With a holistic view of health, we can better address all of your employees’ unique health needs.
#2: Considering health equity as a top priority.
We always say that virtual care has the power to be healthcare’s great equalizer. It has the power to unlock access to so many communities and groups who would otherwise have no way to receive vital healthcare. Your employees likely come from different backgrounds and cultures. Some may be parents, while others may be caregivers. Some may live in areas where the nearest primary care physician is hours away. That’s why you must find a partner who is prioritizing care for everyone, regardless of zip code or background. Ask yourself a few key questions as you vet your partner to see if they’re truly “walking the walk” of health equity:
- Are the virtual care appointments easy to schedule, and do their providers and care teams have near-term availability to serve your employees?
- Do they offer culturally competent care in multiple languages?
- Are they transparent about their costs upfront? Does the program put an unrealistic expectation of cost on your members (restrictive high-priced diets, required smart phones or video only interfaces). Will it be easy and seamless for your employees to understand their plans?
#3: Delivering preventive, proactive care.
Proactive care is a powerful, and often overlooked, tool that really can transform healthcare as we know it. For example, primary care has the potential to prevent health issues, catch problems before they become severe, manage existing conditions, and connect the dots to other care that may be needed. In general, primary care should act as someone’s first point of entry into the healthcare system and can help with everyday health needs, annual checkups, and more. However, there can be many barriers to entry to receive primary care, so offering a convenient, flexible solution to accessing care can help improve health outcomes.
Your virtual care partner should go beyond just urgent care. At a minimum, they should offer your employees preventive screenings, early detection options, and management of long-term, chronic conditions. Virtual care can be an effective way to help your employees establish long-term relationships with their providers and care teams. We have seen through our virtual primary care program that 65% of our primary care members did not previously have a PCP, and we have helped members with uncaptured diabetes and hypertension receive accurate diagnoses, which will help them manage and improve their long-term health outcomes.
#4: Treating clinical quality is paramount to deliver the strongest outcomes.
Virtual care is simply a different modality of delivering care, which should always aim to deliver quality outcomes. The best virtual care solutions prioritize clinical quality above anything. To ensure all employees receive access to high-quality, credible clinical solutions, ask your partner if they leverage the Institute of Medicine’s six domains of healthcare quality, focused on equitable, patient-centered, effective, safe, timely and efficient care. Are physicians being trained in antibiotic stewardship, clinical protocols, and telehealth best practices? Establishing the first-ever patient safety organization for virtual care was an important step for Teladoc Health because it allowed us to drive quality assurance while improving access to care for millions of people. Additionally, the 100+ evidence based clinical guidelines we have instituted have been a pivotal piece for us to establish the largest and most diverse virtual care-focused medical network in the world. To provide comfort and safety for everyone we serve, we have also established a layered clinical oversight program, which includes tools for our more than 10,000 licensed care providers that provide the necessary oversight, evaluation, and feedback to drive quality assurance while positively impacting lives.
This commitment to quality means that employees are engaged, and that partners and clients reap the long-term benefits. For example, in Teladoc Health’s diabetes management program, the goal is improving consumers’ health and driving toward a state of remission. When analyzing the outcomes we have driven across all our users, at 5 years nearly 80% of our members have an A1c of less than 6.5% (in-line with the American Diabetes Association’s definition of remission). These results would not be achieved without a keen focus on quality.
#5: Working within the existing healthcare system to drive change.
I think often about a phrase our CEO Jason Gorevic uses – We’re on a mission to transform, not disrupt, healthcare. What does this mean? It’s incredibly difficult to disrupt the complex and ever-changing healthcare system. To drive immediate change, it is necessary to work within the system by listening to the needs of hospitals, health systems, providers, and consumers alike and respond with integrated, tailored solutions. This is where we’ve found our greatest success.
To ensure your virtual care partner will truly help your employees improve their overall health, here’s a few things they should offer you:
- A hybrid approach to care, helping connect the dots between virtual and in-person care for your employees when that is needed. This can include referrals to specialists or in-home labs.
- A way for your employees to share their health history with other providers. This helps ensure their care teams have a holistic view of their conditions, risks, and current health plans.
- Offering your employees easy-to-understand information about their benefits and services to ensure they are optimizing the use of those benefits.
These are just a few examples and learnings that can be a helpful guide to securing the strongest partner for your employees. I believe virtual care is the way of the future – and with these non-negotiable focus areas, you can ensure that you are selecting a partner who is delivering on the full promise of virtual care.