Today’s healthcare landscape looks very different than it did in the early days of organized medicine.
Not only have health services expanded beyond the four walls of the hospital or clinic, but they’ve also become more specialized. Patients have access to medical assistance in acute care hospitals, urgent care centers, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes, just to name a few.
Recently, however, there has been a further push to make health services even more convenient and cost effective for consumers; hence, the growing popularity of alternative care sites.
What are these new alternative care sites, and what impact will they have on patients, providers, and healthcare ecosystems as a whole? Let’s review.
New alternative care sites meet consumers where they are
Patients these days who are in need of care don’t have to go too far. In fact, they might not even have to leave the couch, as health services are now being offered online, in homes, and in community and retail settings.
Rapid advancements in healthcare technology (e.g., 5G, cloud technology, smart phone apps) and the expansion of reimbursement for telehealth (e.g., CMS 2020) have made delivering virtual healthcare easier than ever before. In Q2 2021, investments in telehealth services reached a record high of $5 billion: ~38 times higher than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.
From the patient perspective, connecting with providers virtually saves time, offers flexibility, and reduces potential infectious exposures. While providers acknowledge the clear benefits, many feel virtual interactions lack the human connection of face-to-face visits and report barriers to conducting visual examinations through telehealth platforms. Due to these limitations, telehealth usage has been reported higher among specialties like psychiatry and endocrinology rather than optometry and dermatology, which rely highly on physical interaction or lab collection.
11TEN’s Take: Some health services can be optimally provided online, but others will rely on hybrid approaches or the use of alternative care settings that offer convenience to patients without losing the benefits of an in-person interaction.
Additionally, because of the demand for telehealth appointments, we are already seeing (and, via our healthcare ecosystem, participating in) enhancements in healthcare technology. Such healthcare innovations include motion tracking and self-administered exam tools, making virtual interactions more lifelike in some health services (e.g., IncludeHealth remote physical therapy, TytoCare Exam Kit, Healthcare in the Metaverse).
One way to maintain the convenience of virtual health, while adding in the benefits of an in-person interaction, is by bringing health services into the home. Services that once required a visit to the hospital or clinic are now being offered in patients’ homes.
These services range from simple visits for vaccine administration (e.g., Ro + NY State DPH), primary care (e.g., Heal), and physical therapy (e.g., Luna) to more complex offerings like cancer treatments and hospital-at-home. The use of home health services is expected to grow over the coming years, with recent reports estimating the size of the market to be worth over $662 billion by 2027.
11TEN’s Take: As home health becomes increasingly more popular and regulations expand in favor of at-home services, we expect to see health providers and companies extend their offerings into patients’ homes and form partnerships with home health providers.
Retail & Community Health
For patients who are not homebound, receiving health services while going about their day-to-day activities is a convenient and accessible option. In 2021, a variety of retailers extended their health service offerings, many of which aim to increase accessibility to rural communities and individuals who work during regular office hours.
For example, Walgreens followed CVS and Walmart, making a $5.2 billion investment in VillageMD to increase its healthcare footprint in primary care. Instead of having to schedule a trip to the doctor’s office, patients can now get a medical exam as they pick up their prescription at a pharmacy, receive an eye exam while shopping for groceries, or get vaccinated while attending a basketball game.
Along with increasing patient convenience, these care settings also decrease the burden on primary care physicians. By allowing the nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and pharmacists who work in these alternative care settings to take on patient needs, primary care physicians may be able to focus on providing more complex care.
11TEN’s Take: Over the next year, we expect to see retailers, even those who don’t traditionally operate in healthcare (e.g., Best Buy, Dollar General), continue to expand their health services, enabling the delivery of primary care to more neighborhoods.
How Healthcare Ecosystems can help ensure the success of alternative care sites
As we’ve discussed, alternative care sites provide several benefits for both patients and providers. But it’s important to acknowledge and address one of the major drawbacks: a potential increase in fragmented care. Because organizations operate on different platforms, it can be easy for patients and providers to lose track of patient history. This can lead to gaps in care or duplications, which can negatively impact patient health.
One way we can collaboratively help address this issue is by engaging in efforts to increase ecosystem interoperability and transparency. These two goals can be achieved through third-party partnerships, where the existing assets of two different stakeholders are leveraged to achieve a common goal. Teladoc and Trustmark Health Benefits, for example, recently partnered to create a virtual-first insurance plan, empowering members to seek care in a more convenient, low-cost form.
It is imperative that these types of partnerships continue to form in the future so that patients and providers will feel comfortable giving and receiving healthcare in their preferred setting.
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