When consumers want to do something trivial, such as order a pizza, all they need to do is flip open their app, push a button, and their steaming hot pie will arrive thirty minutes later. Everything happens instantly, at the push of a button.
The same is not true, though, with medicine. Patients still have to call up their providers, speak to a receptionist, and then wait, perhaps several days, just for a consultation. Worse still, many have to travel, even though they are feeling unwell.
Why there should be such a big difference between ordering a pizza and getting medical assistance online isn’t so clear-cut. Baking a pizza and then delivering it is still a complex business process. It relies on app technology,everything showing up to work at the pizza kitchen, motor vehicles, and customer order management systems. And while medical services are slightly more complex, they’re not all that different. After all, a consultation with a doctor is simply a conversation with a trained professional. Fortunately, current global circumstances appear to be forcing the issue. Medical providers are having to switch to on-demand medicine formats to meet COVID-19 restriction requirements and better meet the needs of their patients. A report from the professional consulting firm, McKinsey, suggests that telehealth use increased 38 timesduring the pandemic period.
The technology for on-demand medicine has been around for a long time. Other service-based professionals have been using apps to queue and remotely consult with their audiences since at least 2010. However, the medical profession held back. Consumers weren’t, in general, particularly interested in such services.
But with the pandemic, things changed considerably. For the first time, many patients wanted to avoid the doctor’s office and were more willing to use telehealth. Providers, such as DrHouse, saw an explosion in demand, unprecedented in their history.
At the same time, there were significant regulatory changes. Providers dramatically improved accessibility and reimbursements.
Healthcare practices also changed their operational practices, too. Suddenly, doctors began demanding to see patients remotely instead of in person, reducing the risk of infection spreading.
Commentators believed that increased on-demand medicine use would be transitory. Patients would use it during the acute phase of the pandemic and then return to conventional in-office consultations. However, a McKinsey review suggests that this did not happen. Telehealth usage remains around 38 times higher than it was before the pandemic, accounting for between 13 and 17 percent of all appointments.
Consumer perceptions changed dramatically after March 2020. While concerns around data privacy remain, most patients would like telehealth to remain a permanent option. The ability to make an appointment at any time of the day or night and speak with a trusted medical professional removes many of the ancillary costs associated with going to the doctor’s office, including transport and lost time.
The analysis also reveals that investment in virtual care tools is skyrocketing and becoming more consumer-focused (not doctor’s office-focused as it was in the past). Figures suggest that venture capital investment has increased by more than three times since 2017.
While on-demand medicine’s popularity is increasing, patients prefer it for certain types of care over others. The vast majority of patients prefer to speak with specialists in person. Only 12 percent say they prefer telemedicine, However, 23 percent said that they would prefer telemedicine to physical trips to the pharmacy or retail store, or for pediatrician visits for their children.
Where telemedicine is most popular in the realm of mental health. 37 percent want in-person consultations while 40 percent prefer to conduct meetings online.
According to research, around 40 percent of people who use telemedicine now plan on continuing to use it going forward. However, interestingly, consumers are also becoming more aware of related on-demand health services that came on board during the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, many patients are keen to explore digital and virtual health insurance packages that lower costs and encourage preventative measures.
At the same time, physicians continue to view on-demand medicine favorably. Research suggests that around 58 percent have a higher opinion of telehealth today than they did at the start of the pandemic. Initially, doctors worried about the quality of care they could provide. However, with the increasing usage of telehealth systems, many are coming to different opinions. Currently, nearly 85 percent of physicians in the U.S. offer some kind of telehealth service, reducing the need to travel to the office for their patients.
With that said, economics for patients may not improve significantly. More than half of doctors said that they would not lower prices for virtual consultations. Therefore, premiums are reimbursements are unlikely to change.
We’ve also seen significant improvements on the regulatory front. Some emergency measures have become permanent, encouraging healthcare practitioners to continue using digital services. However, many codes may return to normal as public health officials wind down various remote practices.
Investor activity continues to grow in the telemedicine space. Venture capital funding was dramatically higher in 2020 than in any of the three preceding years, nearly doubling the 2019 figure. Estimates peg total venture capital investment at $14.7 billion in 2021, up from just $6 billion in 2017. Revenues from major telehealth providers exploded to more than $5.5 billion in 2020, up from just $3 billion the year before.
The difference between investment numbers and revenues is stark. While there is considerable excitement around what telehealth can achieve, the search for highly profitable business models continues. Firms need to generate profits that can pay back investors within the next ten years. If no model is successful, it could reduce investment and innovation in the space.
On-demand medicine moving beyond urgent virtual care into new spaces. The goal of the service is to make healthcare services more convenient and to enable more care at home. In the future, on-demand healthcare is likely to focus on addressing chronic health issues to improve patients’ quality of life.