- Virtual care and telehealth are becoming more widely adopted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A Cigna + Oscar survey found that small businesses in particular benefit from digital health.1
- Virtual care has barriers to entry. Healthcare providers can do more to help it meet its potential.
With many people feeling trepidation about visiting a doctor in person and sitting in a crowded waiting room filled with other people during the pandemic, virtual healthcare quickly became part of the new normal.
From phone calls with a therapist to video visits with a dermatologist or a primary-care physician, what seemed futuristic in 2019 became increasingly common during the several months of lockdown at the height of the pandemic.
McKinsey & Company found that while virtual primary care spiked in popularity in April 2020, utilization levels later stabilized to represent 13% to 17% across all specialties.2 That number is 38 times higher2 than before the pandemic, but there is still potential for the service to reach more people and improve healthcare plans.
There are still significant barriers to the widespread adoption of virtual care and its increased integration into health plans — such as a perception that the technology isn’t secure and a feeling of discomfort toward technology among patients, particularly older ones. These barriers must be addressed for telehealth use to continue to grow.
Virtual care isn’t only convenient. It can also help save businesses money. Many small businesses would like their insurance providers to offer virtual care options, found a recent survey of small-business owners and health-insurance/employee-benefits decision-makers and employees conducted by Cigna + Oscar alliance, along with Insider Studios and first-party data and insights platform provider Dynata. Two-thirds of owners and benefits decision-makers said it can save time, and that it’s more productive.1
Virtual care can deliver cost-savings opportunities for small businesses
Small businesses can especially benefit from providing virtual care to employees because it can save time, keep people with chronic conditions healthier, and lower costs, said Louis DeStefano, the senior vice president of growth at Cigna.
“Virtual care is particularly important to small companies because of the flexibility it provides. Small businesses can feel the impact of staffing shortages and tight schedules more, or may be tied to a location,” DeStefano said. “Virtual care offers that much needed flexibility in how, when, and where employees can get care.”
Small businesses already struggle with hard decisions when it comes to the benefits they offer employees: In the Cigna + Oscar survey, 60% of small-business owners and decision-makers said they limited insurance-plan options because of high costs.1 As many as 70% of small business owners and decision-makers said health insurance isn’t built with small businesses in mind.1
One solution could be virtual care: 66% of small-business owners and decision-makers and 70% of employees reported that virtual care helped them save time and increase productivity.1 A majority of small-business owners and decision-makers (74%) agreed that virtual care could make healthcare more accessible and affordable to everyone.1 And 59% said they would switch benefits to allow employees to chat with a doctor in 15 minutes, 24/7, for $0 copay, if it were affordable.1
Telehealth programs remain cost-effective, and there is more upside to its expansion — especially for small businesses. For Oscar members, a virtual primary-care visit is $0 copay with the Oscar app. And depending on where a member lives, there is even an option for same-day delivery of prescription medications.
Virtual care is also often a much less expensive option than after-hours care for common ailments or acute issues such as a sore throat, pink eye, and urinary tract infections.
For businesses, this means their employees can get health issues resolved fast from the comfort of their homes without having to spend hours in an urgent-care clinic. There’s no trip to a doctor or having to arrange childcare. It’s a few taps from an app, and you can easily connect with a provider via a phone or message consultation.
How virtual care can meet its potential
For as much ground as virtual-care adoption has gained during the pandemic, in-person care still makes up an overwhelming majority of care episodes because of reimbursement delays and holdups with virtual care. Even so, virtual care still holds promise.
Where virtual care often performs best is when a primary-care physician also offers telehealth versus the option of seeing a doctor who is unfamiliar with a patient’s health history. After all, virtual care isn’t meant to replace in-person care, merely complement it when convenience and access take precedence. But for some users, seeing doctors predominantly online is preferred.
Sometimes use comes down to how well a healthcare provider has integrated virtual care into its services. At Oscar, the service is easy to use since it’s in the platform. That means members can fit in doctors’ appointments around busy schedules. And if users or employers have a question, the provider’s dedicated care team offers support 24/7.
For Oscar, 98% of its members on virtual plans who have used the virtual primary-care program would recommend it, internal data indicated.3 Members are also using it to establish meaningful long-term primary-care relationships: 85% of members surveyed who have used the program said they intended to use virtual primary care as their only primary-care provider going forward and/or when health issues arise, as opposed to using it as a second opinion or supplementary to an existing primary-care relationship.3
“We know we’re reaching the members that most need primary care — more than 60% of the members who have engaged with our virtual primary-care providers have a chronic health need,”3 said Marianna Spanos, the vice president and general manager of virtual care at Oscar.
Choosing a plan that values and prioritizes virtual care
Small businesses should consider health insurance that offers virtual care services that are the most beneficial and user-friendly, with a diversity of options for virtual care.
“Virtual care benefits employees, which in turn benefits employers,” DeStefano said. “Look for an insurer that is technology-first, that prioritizes this service and how it can work with employees’ flexible schedules.”
He continued: “The convenience and affordability remove barriers from visiting the doctor, which means your employees can manage their health. A tailor-made plan that prioritizes this has benefits for small-business employees and employers.”
Cigna + Oscar coverage is insured by Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company. CA: benefits administered by Oscar Health Administrators. Other states: benefits administered by Oscar Management Corporation. Pharmacy benefits provided by Express Scripts, Inc. Cigna + Oscar health insurance contains exclusions and limitations. For complete details on product availability and coverage, please refer to your plan documents or contact a representative.
1Cigna + Oscar, Insider Studios, and Dynata. “Small business attitudes toward healthcare and benefits.” July 2021.
2McKinsey & Co. “Telehealth: A quarter-trillion-dollar post-COVID-19 reality?” July 2021.
3Oscar Health. “Post-consult survey.” 2021 YTD.