What’s in that cloudy crystal ball? Last year, especially the first half, saw telehealth acquisitions, stock prices and valuations hit the roof. The roof proved to be high but sturdy, as they bounced right back down, not unexpectedly.
But gee whiz, Fast Company’s article seems to be shocked, shocked at all this, calling it a bubble. This Editor sincerely doubts that any investor that tracked telehealth over the last 10 years would have NOT expected this ride on the rollercoaster after the urgent care and practice offices reopened starting in mid-2020 and worked slowly through 2021. The rebound, as with health insurance payers, took a few months to work through into 2021. Telehealth usage in 2021 receded steadily to single digits, and at last report to just above 4% of claims as of October 2021 (FAIR Health US claims data). What remains is the continued dominance of mental health–62% for mental health codes. It’s turned out that Babylon Health‘s SPAC was the last of the major action for 2021, getting in under the wire in October.
It’s obvious that investors will be more realistic in assessing telehealth companies, looking at the areas that sustained telehealth usage, such as behavioral health. Another surprising niche is LGBTQ telehealth–Grand Rounds’ buy of Included Health in May, which then led to the entire company, including Doctor on Demand, adopting the name [TTA 20 Oct].
The other move that telehealth companies are making is to take more of the patient than a few virtual visits. They’ve moved into offering primary care teams to patients in employer plans (Babylon360 and Teladoc’s Primary360). Amazon Care moved into in-home health and clinics with Crossover Health. Amwell acquired SilverCloud for expanding behavioral health capabilities internationally, and stuck a toe into care management with their Converge platform and acquiring startup Conversa‘s health coaching app. The flip side is retail health migrating into in-person and virtual primary care–CVS Health and Walgreens, via VillageMD.
What also held telehealth back for over a decade of less than 1% was reimbursement by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers. The pandemic broke through that barrier. While it has narrowed considerably, CMS will still reimburse audio-only telehealth for behavioral health services, addiction treatment, and in-home health visits. State policies on telehealth practices can positively influence telehealth growth for patients and physicians. Free-market organizations Reason Foundation, Cicero Institute, and the Pioneer Institute have reported on all 50 on several policy metrics:
- In-person requirements
- Modality neutral (asynchronous or synchronous, technology including audio, video, store and forward, and remote patient monitoring.)
- No state barriers
- All providers can use telehealth
- Independent practice (including nurse-practitioners)
- No coverage or payment mandates
- Cross-state compacts