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Amazon, Microsoft, and the Future of Telehealth Expansion

By: Caregility Team
Home Blog Amazon, Microsoft, and the Future of Telehealth Expansion

Is telehealth expansion here to stay? By now, it should be clear the answer to this question is an emphatic yes.

From new, heavy-hitting entrants, to expanding use cases, to increasing acceptance from all corners, it’s now clear that many of the temporary expansions we saw during COVID-19 will be made permanent—and expanded upon.

But how? What is the future of telehealth expansion in a post-COVID environment?

New Entrants to the Telehealth Market

In February, Microsoft announced an update to its Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare platform to enable virtual visits and remote monitoring. Microsoft already had its AI scheduling bot, Azure, on the task of scheduling appointments—the new tools mark a big extension of Microsoft’s platform into telehealth.

Meanwhile, Amazon announced it is expanding its pilot program for telehealth, called Amazon Care, to all of its U.S. employees. The company grew so fast in 2020 it’s hard to pin down how many people that now includes, but according to a NY Times report, Amazon now has at least 1.2 million employees worldwide.

The dramatic expansions of both Microsoft and Amazon into telehealth is just one indication that telehealth expansion is here to stay. But it is also evidence that telehealth isn’t just for healthcare companies anymore—it’s for any company with the resources, ambition, and flexibility to try its hand.

If 2020 was the year we saw existing healthcare groups make forays into telehealth, 2021 will be a year not only of further expansion, but of new entrants, and even consolidation (as in MDLive’s announcement it is being acquired by Cigna subsidiary Evernorth).

So, how should healthcare leaders think about these new entrants?

From Point Solutions to Enterprise Solutions

The entry of large consumer brands into telehealth reflects the new public acceptance of virtual care, while the entry of enterprise B2B brands reflects the growing desire of health systems to explore enterprise telehealth solutions.

Many health systems at the beginning of 2020 already had enterprise telehealth strategies in place. Nevertheless, during the pandemic, hospitals used a lot of bandaids and ad-hoc strategies to address the unprecedented public health crisis, from using baby monitors to do remote patient monitoring, to bringing Zoom to the bedside to allow patients to connect with loved ones.

This experimentation opened everyone’s minds to the value of virtual care, especially scaling that care beyond the emergency department or the ICU. In the past, hospitals have searched for point solutions to specific problems, such as telestroke in the ED, or remote patient monitoring.

Now, a new generation of telehealth technology is proving that telehealth can scale beyond those point solutions, into a flexible, system-wide software platform that can be adapted to nearly any workflow.

This move from point solutions for specific use cases to enterprise solutions for entire health systems is indicative of how healthcare leaders are thinking about telehealth expansion.

Additional Use Cases & Expansion

In December 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it was making permanent a huge expansion of payments for telehealth services. The fee schedule included 60 additional telehealth services, and CMS is studying whether more services should be added in the future.

These new payment schedules serve as a kind of roadmap for new use cases, from home visits, to physical and occupational therapy, to nursing facilities. During the pandemic, health systems needed to quickly add virtual patient monitoring for COVID patients—now, health systems are looking at how to video-enable all patient rooms. And they are looking for enterprise solutions that go beyond the hospital, extending care teams system wide. Telehealth is moving beyond the emergency department and the ICU to include a health system’s clinics, its rehab facilities, long-term care facilities, primary care offices, and more.

It’s no wonder the research firm MarketsandMarkets estimated that telehealth and telemedicine would grow from $38.7 billion in 2020 to $191 billion by 2025. Meanwhile, a March 2021 McKinsey report predicted that of all the transformations in consumer behavior during the pandemic, the transition to telehealth would be among the most sticky (second only to online grocery shopping).

One of the big reasons, according to the McKinsey report, is that consumers have found real value from using telehealth, both monetary and in terms of customer experience.

That’s not surprising: telehealth technology has reached a level of flexibility and ease of use that simply didn’t exist just a few years ago. The only question for healthcare leaders at this point is: do they have the right tools in place to prepare for the future?

Interested in a flexible enterprise solution that can scale according to your system’s needs? Learn more about the Caregility platform here.

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