Telehealth companies seek to retain new patients, partnerships in a post-Covid world
September 16 / 2021 - Matthew Arrojas, South Florida Business Journal
Telehealth had its moment to shine during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, as millions of Americans were forced to look beyond doctor's offices and urgent care centers for medical care.
As a result, telehealth providers saw unprecedented growth in 2020. Miramar-based MDLive, for example, increased its membership base 57% since the start of the pandemic, Chief Growth Officer Mindy Heintskill said. The number of providers available through MDLive rose by more than 67% during the second half of 2020, she added.
Overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found there was a 154% year-over-year increase in telehealth visits during the last week of March 2020.
However, telehealth companies now face a new challenge: retaining all the new customers they attracted during the pandemic.
Those in the industry feel optimistic about their chances to do just that.
"Patient behavior has changed more in the last year than it has in the last 25 years, in terms of how telemedicine is being used," said Randy Parker, founder, and CEO of GeniusRx. "I believe that behavior is never going back to the way it was."
Boca Raton-based GeniusRx, an online pharmacy network that delivers medication directly to patients, launched in January 2020, so most of its operations have taken place during the pandemic. But Parker, who founded MDLive in 2009, said the pandemic proved to be the instigator that pushed telehealth into the national consciousness as a viable option for patients and doctors alike.
Early returns have so far proven that many customers haven't abandoned telehealth, even as doctor's offices and urgent care centers reopened.
Heintskill said repeat MDLive customers are most common in the behavioral health space. The company reported in May that 89% of therapy patients and 69% of psychiatry patients had conducted two or more visits during the previous 12 months.
GeniusRx data shows that not only has the company been able to retain customers in 2021, but it is continuing to grow.
VP of Data Science Devon Seitz said total prescriptions filled through the company has increased 39% year over year –
from the same point in 2020.
The number of active users employing its website to research different drugs or to fill prescriptions has also increased by $138%, Seitz said.
But both MDLive and GeniusRx see room for even more growth.
Continued maturation for MDLive comes with the addition of new services and attracting new types of patients. The next step, Heintskill said, is to increase the number of chronic patients using telehealth for continued checkups and to monitor their conditions.
“When I think about the future of MDLive, we need to double down on managing chronic conditions in a more proactive way," she said. "That includes remote patient monitoring so we can find signals and be more proactive in their treatment. With certainty, I can say they are more likely to repeat in the future.”
Parker shared a similar viewpoint.
As more patients with chronic conditions rely on GeniusRx, he said, there's less of a chance that they miss a dose, as the company would be able to continually provide medicines as they need them. Older patients or those with severely limiting conditions won't have to worry about going to the pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions.
It'll become more like a subscription service that takes the pressure off the patient.
"From day one, I didn't want to be a transactional digital pharmacy," Parker said. "I want it to be an efficient and clean user experience."
He said about 30% to 40% of all medical visits are currently being conducted through telehealth right now, according to GeniusRx estimates. He believes 40% will become the new normal, which is an appropriate percentage for the industry, as not all visits can be done online.
The future is promising for telehealth businesses nationwide.
Telehealth companies have more money to expand, thanks in large part to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a June report from Credit Suisse. In 2020, $14 billion was invested across 440 deals – a 72% increase from $8.14 billion in 2018, a record high at the time.
This makes these businesses well suited to ride the upcoming wave of growth.
U.S. health care spending, which totaled $3.8 trillion in 2019, is expected to grow to $6.2 trillion by 2028. According to the report from Credit Suisse, this means health care spending is increasing at a 5.4% annual growth rate.