Virtual Care Blog Series — Part 2

The pandemic has pushed virtual care technologies to make the leap across the chasm of adoption as even the pragmatists and conservatives have started deploying these services. Forrester made the call that 2020 would be the tipping point in virtual care adoption, and the pandemic accelerated this shift as barriers that inhibited faster adoption have been removed, such as lack of consumer awareness, cost and reimbursement hurdles, and the ability for patients to connect with their existing provider that they trust.

To better understand how adoption has played out in the market, what areas are seeing the greatest amount of growth, and to establish a baseline in virtual care, Forrester has been connecting with the supply side — the vendors in the virtual care space. These vendors have reported a significant rise in enrollment, adoption, and new implementations by healthcare organizations (HCOs). As part of our weekly series on virtual care, we are continuing to highlight how virtual care is transforming the future of healthcare. Missed the previous blog? Check it out here.

New Firms Take On Virtual Care Amid Financial Hardship

Major HCOs are rallying behind the power of virtual care to bring safe, convenient, cost-effective care to consumers. While many health systems are facing significant financial hardship, cutting executive pay, and furloughing or laying off workers, one area of investment that has persisted through the pandemic is virtual care. Forrester recently partnered with HIMSS (the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) to conduct a survey of HCOs on the front lines to understand what technologies were most important for their pandemic response — and virtual care was at the top of the list. We see these examples playing out in the market, as well. For example:

  • Baylor Scott & White plans to enhance its digital offerings, specifically for virtual care, as part of the health system’s plan to strengthen its organization for the future. During the pandemic, the health system rapidly expanded its virtual care capabilities and conducted more than 75% of clinic visits virtually.
  • NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP) partnered with Amwell to increase clinical capacity to meet the surge in demand for urgent care during the pandemic. NYP found that this was particularly challenging because many providers had been potentially exposed to COVID-19 and were quarantined at home. To address this, NYP redeployed quarantined providers to offer virtual care services, enabling them to treat patients from home. NYP rapidly scaled its virtual care training program to streamline provider onboarding and ultimately conducted 10x–15x more urgent care visits during COVID-19 compared to before the outbreak.

In part, funding from the CARES Act has made virtual care adoption and expansion a reality for large health systems and clinics alike. As of the end of May, the Federal Communications Commission had allocated 35% of the $200 million earmarked for virtual care to support existing and new programs such as the Mayo Clinic, Novant Health, and Lincoln County Primary Care Center.

Chronic Conditions And Acute Diagnoses, Not COVID-19, Have Taken The Lead On Reasons Why Patients Seek Care

Based on data from multiple vendors, during the peak of the pandemic, most virtual care visits were for respiratory illness. We have now turned the corner, however, on patients seeking care for routine reasons, not for COVID-19. Most recently, this has been further demonstrated in the market, as:

  • Urgent care needs are being supported through virtual care. Most of the urgent care patients that sought care through the Amwell platform left the experience with a non-COVID-19 diagnosis, including flu, urinary tract infection, and allergies. Upward of 90% of patient visits were for non-COVID-19 related illnesses. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately two-thirds of patients came in with respiratory complaints, which has now dropped to about one-third as much of the country starts to emerge from the initial peak of the pandemic.
  • Patients with chronic conditions get treatment through virtual delivery. Patients sought care from CirrusMD for a wide range of reasons, including primary care, emergency care, behavioral health, acute care episodes, and chronic conditions. During the pandemic, CirrusMD continued to treat patients who have reached out for reasons related to ongoing care that could be considered both acute and chronic. For example, patients reached out when they ran out of necessary medications (i.e., “I’ve run out of blood pressure medicine, and I can’t reach my physician’s office right now.”)

Leverage Virtual Care To Drive Differentiation

Legacy HCOs already face a lack of differentiation from their new competitors. As regulators revisit cross-state licensure, and HCOs scramble to optimize pricing strategies for virtual care services, new entrants will continue to jump into healthcare. Without a differentiated digital front door strategy, the new empowered consumer will make the shift to innovative healthcare offerings. Investing in customer experience now will pay off post-pandemic.

Have more questions? Forrester clients can request an inquiry to dig deeper on these trends and read our research on optimizing the digital front door strategy in healthcare. There are best practices that must be leveraged to optimize virtual care program deployment during the pandemic and beyond. Reach out to learn more.

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Special thanks to the vendors that continue to contribute to our weekly series, including Amwell,, CirrusMD, eVisit, HealthVerity, Luma Health, and Zipnosis.