Virtual Care is Table-Stakes, Now What?

Telehealth Claymation

There’s no catalyst like a pandemic to transform virtual care from a niche offering to a must-have service, at least according to the 8,000 people who responded to Rock Health’s latest Consumer Adoption Survey.

Virtual care has become table-stakes for both patients and providers, with a majority of respondents using it within the past year (63%).

  • A mature market doesn’t mean virtual care is for everyone. Almost a quarter of respondents still have never used it, citing preferences for in-person care (56%), quality concerns (18%), and lack of awareness (13%).
  • Rock Health doesn’t expect adoption to ever reach 100%, and anticipates always needing a spectrum of omnichannel offerings – traditional, virtual, and retail – to meet consumers’ preferences and capabilities.

There’s a growing share of respondents that prefer virtual care over in-person care for use cases like prescription refills (69%, up 8pp) and mental health services (41%, up 3pp). [Chart]

  • That isn’t too surprising given that refills are transactional care encounters, making them well-suited to low-touch virtual channels like app or portal messaging.
  • Virtual mental health on the other hand reflects a changing status quo, where consumers want to choose from a wider range of providers with different identities or treatment approaches (especially relevant in mental healthcare), and can conveniently access them for regularly scheduled visits.

Consumers are drawn to convenience, but virtual care innovators will need to invest in additional value drivers like data security and user-friendliness to stay competitive.

  • While convenience helped drive virtual care’s popularity, it also attracted competition from retailers, grocers, and CarePods that have the advantage of bundling healthcare with other routines like grocery shopping.
  • For virtual care players, continuing to compete on convenience involves considering both when and where virtual is really more convenient than the best in-person offering, and when it makes sense to partner with retailers as opposed to competing on other differentiators.

The Takeaway

Rock Health’s survey makes it clear that we’re in a new era of virtual care, one that brings its own set of market pressures. Those looking to succeed will have to navigate new value propositions (what defines the best virtual care), alternatives (virtual care doesn’t have a monopoly on convenience or access), and as always, the regulatory/reimbursement landscape.

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