Is Virtual Care Here to Stay?

Is Virtual Care Here to Stay?

What the recent rise in telehealth means for hospitals and MOBs  

Virtual care or telehealth services are not new, but since the pandemic, we’re continuing to see site of care shifts from inpatient to ambulatory; from the physical space to the virtual space. What is newer is the increased influence of non-traditional competitors like Amazon Care and Optum Virtual Care.  

The pandemic disrupted the ambulatory landscape, leaving many to wonder is virtual care here for the long haul?  

What Patients Appreciate About Virtual Care 

Virtual care seems to have 3 main benefits: cost, convenience, and flexibility.  

  • Cost: Every patient wants lower medical care costs, and many payers encourage this lower cost care model.  
  • Convenience: With telehealth and virtual care, there’s no commute time, which means less time-off  from work or spent traveling to and from appointments.  
  • Flexibility: Providers like having the ability to work from the office or home.  

Drawbacks of Virtual Care 

On the other hand, virtual visits currently have pay parity due to COVID. If reimbursement rates drop, providers will likely lose interest. 

Existing physicians are the dominant providers of virtual care (not the third party vendors) If current providers do lose interest, telehealth will likely be used for certain patient populations with 3rd party vendors.1 

Advisors quote iconThere is simply a lot of unknowns about where virtual care will be over the next decade. If trends shift to include more telehealth regulations, lower reimbursement rates, and if long-term consumer behavior changes, virtual care popularity could drop significantly.”  

What Does This Mean for Hospitals and MOBs?

When modeling Key Planning Units (KPUs) hospitals and MOBs must plan for flexibility and scenario development. The use of physical assets will certainly look different with more rooms equipped to accommodate a digital experience. Plans with the ability to flex up/down whether the care delivery need is for virtual or in office will give hospitals and MOBs the best chance to stay ahead of a fluctuating care landscape. Two more factors to consider are:  

  • Anticipate a slight reduction in number of clinic exam rooms, due to the sudden increase in virtual care. (However continued site of care shifts to ambulatory environments, plus previous appointment backlogs may outweigh any potential reduction.2) 
  • Multi-specialty MOBs may see fewer primary care offices, as they are natural candidates for virtual care given the low acuity visit type. This leaves more space for other specialties/procedural care. Additionally, the rise in virtual care may also make it less important for specialties to be co-located physically near each other.2 

Our advisory services help providers find the right balance of investment between inpatient vs ambulatory and physical vs virtual. While site of care shifts to ambulatory and virtual environment are critical in healthcare strategic planning, you can’t lose sight of necessary investments on the acute care front (especially with aging campuses and increasing CMIs/longer lengths of stay). Additionally, surgical cases that are shifting out of inpatient to ASCs are lower acuity, don’t require long lengths of stay. 

With the right KPU’s and care plans in place, we believe providers can stay ahead of consumer behavior to be able to offer the benefits of virtual care while remaining immune to the drawbacks.  

If you want to have a more in-depth conversation about your health system’s needs, schedule a discovery call with our Advisors today. 

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  1. Advisory Board state of the union 2021