Walgreens invests $1B in primary care clinics with VillageMD deal

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/walgreens-invests-1b-in-primary-care-clinics-with-villagemd-deal/581208/

Walgreens plans to open up to 700 primary care clinics as part of ...

Dive Brief:

  • Walgreens on Wednesday announced plans to open up to 700 primary care clinics across the country over the next five years in partnership with medical services provider VillageMD, and “hundreds more” after that.
  • As part of the agreement, Walgreens will invest $1 billion in equity and convertible debt in Chicago-based VillageMD over the next three years, including a $250 million equity investment Wednesday. VillageMD will use 80% of the funds to pay for opening the clinics, called Village Medical at Walgreens, and integrate digitally with Walgreens.
  • Walgreens, which saw its stock rise slightly in early morning trading on the news, anticipates owning 30% of VillageMD once the investment is done. More details on the partnership will be released in the first quarter next year.

Dive Insight:

Retail clinics, which can generate additional script-writing and drive front-of-store sales for their owners, have seen renewed interest in recent years from giants like pharmacy rival CVS Health and retail behemoth Walmart. But Walgreens is the first national pharmacy chain to work toward building out a primary care infrastructure in stores across the U.S.

The move represents a massive investment in the healthcare delivery space for the Illinois-based company, which began trialing the full-service doctor’s offices in its stores late last year with five clinics in Houston, Texas. The pilot was successful, Walgreens said, driving high patient satisfaction scores.

Additionally, the integrated pharmacy model is correlated with increased medication adherence and better patient outcomes, according to internal VillageMD data — important factors in managing chronic conditions, which drive roughly 85% of all U.S. healthcare spend.

As such, Walgreens plans to open 500 to 700 stores over the next five years, staffed by more than 3,600 primary care physicians recruited by VillageMD, along with nurses, social workers and therapists working alongside Walgreens’ pharmacists in 30 U.S. markets.

The two companies are still finalizing what those initial markets are going to be, but the very first will be in Texas and Arizona, Walgreens’ Director of Pharmacy and Healthcare Services Communications Kelli Teno told Healthcare Dive. More than half of the clinics will be located in government-designated medically underserved areas such as Houston, which have a large share of low-income populations, migrant workers and Medicaid beneficiaries.

The stores will accept a broad array of insurance options, according to the release. Many plans VillageMD works with have a zero dollar to $10 co-pay for primary care services, Teno said.

The clinics use a sliding scale payment model for patients who don’t have insurance to try to make care more affordable for the broad range of primary care services provided, like preventative visits, acute infection or minor trauma care or chronic condition management.

Telehealth will be available around the clock for consumers via Walgreens’ healthcare marketplace app, called Find Care, or via VillageMD’s internal capabilities. VillageMD doctors can also provide at-home doctor visits for vulnerable populations, such as senior citizens or the immunocompromised.

Walgreens already has 14 in-store primary care clinics operated by different partners like Partners in Primary Care, Southwest Medical — part of Optum’s physician group — and VillageMD. Late last year, Walgreens announced it was closing 160 of its internally staffed walk-in clinics, though it still has more than 400 clinics nationwide, most staffed or run by local health systems or physician groups.

Its outsourcing model flies against CVS, which built out its health-focused store network, called HealthHUBs, through acquisitions and builds. HealthHUBs designate at least a fifth of floor space to health and wellness focused products. CVS plans to have a chain of 1,500 locations by the end of 2021 as part of its enterprise growth strategy, adding to its almost 10,000 retail locations and more than 1,100 walk-in medical clinics.

For its part, Walgreens’ clinics will be between 3,300 and 9,000 square feet and use existing space within Walgreens’ locations. To make room, clinic-linked stores will offer fewer unhealthy front-end products like snacks and sodas. Tobacco products will not be sold in the first 200 Village Medical at Walgreens locations.

“Many of the stores that we’re initially looking at to build these clinics naturally sell more pharmacy and health and wellness products,” Teno said. “It will really depend on the needs of that local community.”

VillageMD, through its subsidiary Village Medical, includes more than 2,800 doctors across nine markets. The seven-year-old company, which competes with other primary care management companies like UnitedHealth-owned Optum has raised $216 million in total funding across three rounds from investors like Oak HC/FT and Town Hall Ventures, a firm founded by Andy Slavitt, former CMS administrator under President Barack Obama.

 

 

 

Meeting growing consumer demand for “care anywhere”

https://mailchi.mp/7d224399ddcb/the-weekly-gist-july-3-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

 

While COVID-19 provided a big push for doctors and health systems to rapidly expand telemedicine visits and other kinds of remote patient interactions, many report that they are now seeing telemedicine visits decline sharply, as in-person visits return.

While it’s natural to be glad that “things are returning to normal”, backing off virtual care is short-sighted, as recent experiences have set new expectations for patients. Survey data shows consumers like using telehealth services, both because they’re more convenient (65 percent) and help avoid COVID infection (63 percent)—and 51 percent say they would continue using them after the pandemic ends.

We’re increasingly convinced that virtual physician visits are just one part of a continuum of care that can be delivered in the convenience and safety of the patient’s home. The graphic below highlights the range of consumer-focused virtual care solutions, from asynchronous chat interactions all the way to hospital care delivered at home.

Health systems that can deliver “care anywhere”—an integrated platform of virtual services consumers can access from home (or wherever they are) for both urgent needs and overall health management, coordinated with in-person resources—have an unprecedented opportunity to build loyalty at a time when consumers are seeking a trusted source of safe, available care solutions.

 

 

Thinking through the new continuum of urgent care

https://mailchi.mp/d594e7a0c816/the-weekly-gist-june-19-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

About ZOOM+Care | On-Demand Healthcare Unlike Any Other

We’ve both received care from of Portland, OR-based Zoom+Care when traveling, and are big fans of its highly efficient, consumer-centric clinic design and urgent care model. We’ve heard reports from across the country that urgent care visits have been slow to rebound as in-person healthcare services have reopened (no surprise that people are reticent to return to a care setting where sitting in a waiting room next to a coughing patient is often part of the experience).

We wondered if Zoom+Care, with scheduled appointments and operations that largely eliminate the wait, had fared any better, and recently we caught up with Torben Nielsen, the company’s CEO, to hear about his experiences across the past three months. As COVID-19 hit in March, Zoom+Care quickly eliminated self-scheduled visits and took many of its 50 clinics offline, requiring all patients to be triaged virtually before any in-person care. The company had a robust chat visit function already in place, and like most health systems, quickly brought video and phone visits online in the first weeks of the pandemic.

They’ve now delivered more than 30,000 virtual visits. With 34 percent of virtual visits coming from patients in markets where Zoom+Care does not have clinics, telehealth has driven rapid expansion into new markets, presenting both opportunities (virtual demand highlights where to site new clinics) and challenges (the need to quickly develop referral relationships for the 10-20 percent of telemedicine patients who would benefit from in-person follow-up).

Telemedicine visits have continued to grow even as self-scheduling was turned back on and in-person volume returned. Nielsen thinks centralization will be a big part of their ongoing virtual care strategy. Over the years Zoom+Care learned that chat visits required a different provider skill set, necessitating a dedicated team—and the same is true of phone and video visits. They’re also exploring what specialty care can be managed virtually, and the best modes to deliver it.

Case in point: it’s no surprise that a visually-oriented specialty like dermatology is well-suited for virtual. But with the grainy images of videoconferencing software, telemedicine falls far short of chat-based care, where a patient can send a high-resolution image and text back and forth with the provider. Given that payment for chat visits falls fall short of video visits, Zoom+Care is now exploring new relationships and economic models to support a multimodal, multispecialty care model.

A fascinating conversation, and confirmation that creating the ideal access platform will require not just layering telemedicine on top of the existing “physical” clinic footprint, but redesigning the entire care journey to create a seamless and connected access experience.

 

 

 

 

Navigating a Post-Covid Path to the New Normal with Gist Healthcare CEO, Chas Roades

https://www.lrvhealth.com/podcast/?single_podcast=2203

Covid-19, Regulatory Changes and Election Implications: An Inside ...Chas Roades (@ChasRoades) | Twitter

Healthcare is Hard: A Podcast for Insiders; June 11, 2020

Over the course of nearly 20 years as Chief Research Officer at The Advisory Board Company, Chas Roades became a trusted advisor for CEOs, leadership teams and boards of directors at health systems across the country. When The Advisory Board was acquired by Optum in 2017, Chas left the company with Chief Medical Officer, Lisa Bielamowicz. Together they founded Gist Healthcare, where they play a similar role, but take an even deeper and more focused look at the issues health systems are facing.

As Chas explains, Gist Healthcare has members from Allentown, Pennsylvania to Beverly Hills, California and everywhere in between. Most of the organizations Gist works with are regional health systems in the $2 to $5 billion range, where Chas and his colleagues become adjunct members of the executive team and board. In this role, Chas is typically hopscotching the country for in-person meetings and strategy sessions, but Covid-19 has brought many changes.

“Almost overnight, Chas went from in-depth sessions about long-term five-year strategy, to discussions about how health systems will make it through the next six weeks and after that, adapt to the new normal. He spoke to Keith Figlioli about many of the issues impacting these discussions including:

  • Corporate Governance. The decisions health systems will be forced to make over the next two to five years are staggeringly big, according to Chas. As a result, Gist is spending a lot of time thinking about governance right now and how to help health systems supercharge governance processes to lay a foundation for the making these difficult choices.
  • Health Systems Acting Like Systems. As health systems struggle to maintain revenue and margins, they’ll be forced to streamline operations in a way that finally takes advantage of system value. As providers consolidated in recent years, they successfully met the goal of gaining size and negotiating leverage, but paid much less attention to the harder part – controlling cost and creating value. That’s about to change. It will be a lasting impact of Covid-19, and an opportunity for innovators.
  • The Telehealth Land Grab. Providers have quickly ramped-up telehealth services as a necessity to survive during lockdowns. But as telehealth plays a larger role in the new standard of care, payers will not sit idly by and are preparing to double-down on their own virtual care capabilities. They’re looking to take over the virtual space and own the digital front door in an effort to gain coveted customer loyalty. Chas talks about how it would be foolish for providers to expect that payers will continue reimburse at high rates or at parity for physical visits.
  • The Battleground Over Physicians. This is the other area to watch as payers and providers clash over the hearts and minds of consumers. The years-long trend of physician practices being acquired and rolled-up into larger organizations will significantly accelerate due to Covid-19. The financial pain the pandemic has caused will force some practices out of business and many others looking for an exit. And as health systems deal with their own financial hardships, payers with deep pockets are the more likely suitor.”

 

 

 

 

My telemedicine visit was a little too “normal”

https://mailchi.mp/d594e7a0c816/the-weekly-gist-june-19-2020?e=d1e747d2d8

In Depth: COVID-19 and Telemedicine in N.H. | New Hampshire Public ...

Needing a quick prescription refill, I logged on to my first post-COVID telemedicine visit with my primary care physician this week—and while I appreciated being able to meet with my doctor from my living room, the experience revealed the kinks in the way many practices are delivering virtual care. To schedule, I filled out a form on the website, which triggered a follow-up call from practice staff the next morning.

Straightforward, but far from an “Open Table” level of simplicity. The technology worked just fine: a single click on an emailed link launched Microsoft Teams (which happened to already be installed on my laptop), and I was met by a medical assistant dialing in from an exam room in the practice. She took my information, said the doctor would be joining shortly, and left.

So I waited. And waited. The camera was on, and I was left looking at the blood pressure cuff, otoscope and ophthalmoscope hanging on the wall—literally the same view I would’ve had sitting on the exam table (I just needed to don a paper gown and turn the thermostat down ten degrees to completely replicate the experience of being there in person). I waited some more—22 minutes to be precise, as the webinar screen had a count-up clock recording just how long I was looking at the wall.

My doctor is a great clinician, and surely was running behind because she was spending time with a patient who needed her attention. Once she came into the room, the visit was efficient—and we talked about the challenges of transitioning to virtual care. I was happy to cut the practice some slack since I know them, but it would have been really underwhelming if I were a new patient—honestly, I probably wouldn’t be a repeat user. And it fell far short of what is needed to create a differentiated virtual care offering.

Like everything else “digital” in our lives, we want telemedicine to be easy, integrated, efficient and on time—and our expectations for experience are set outside of healthcare. One thing was made painfully obvious: providers need to make sure not to replicate the frustrating parts of traditional office visits, as they look to create a lasting, sustainable virtual care platform.

 

 

 

 

Walmart to expand health centers to Arkansas this month

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/strategy/walmart-to-expand-health-centers-to-arkansas-this-month.html?utm_medium=email

Walmart Opening More Healthcare 'Super Centers'

Walmart will open two more standalone health clinics this month, including a site in Arkansas, the company said June 17.

The health clinics, called Walmart Health, will offer primary care, imaging, lab, dental and behavioral health services. 

The health clinics opening this month will be in Loganville, Ga., and Springdale, Ark. The Loganville Walmart Health opened June 17. The first Arkansas location will open June 24.

The company already has clinics in the Georgia cities of Dallas and Calhoun.

Walmart said it believes that expanding the standalone clinics will help bring affordable, quality healthcare to more Americans, because 90 percent of them live within 10 miles of a Walmart store. 

“Patients have responded favorably to our low, transparent pricing for key healthcare services, regardless of insurance status,” Walmart’s senior vice president of health and wellness, Sean Slovenski wrote in a blog post. “They’re also appreciative of the convenience of our facilities that offer primary and urgent care, labs, X-ray and diagnostics, counseling, dental, optical and hearing services, all in one central facility.”

 

 

 

 

Industry Voices—Healthcare has a plus-size problem from consolidation. Here are 9 ways to respond

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/hospitals/industry-voices-healthcare-has-a-plus-size-problem-from-consolidation-here-are-9-ways-to?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWlRJMk9UYzVZVFl4Tm1VMSIsInQiOiJ0aElzSllzTkpISWNIcU13ZXErNVdPSzU3K05cLzRVY2FEWFMycDNHZTZcLzlTYUo3UVNNQXd3ZjlwZXlFbVA3c3NQTHI0NFhqcjhFNk1VUXc4aVlnYW9aSnFVOVIydEFqWG5weWdEc2Viall1elwvK0RIRWtEajhPWGw3TEFTNDlkUCJ9&mrkid=959610

Industry Voices—Healthcare has a plus-size problem from ...

For two decades, healthcare consolidation has been a strong industry trend. But in the COVID-19 era, big healthcare is proving to be a big problem.

Once the community spread of COVID-19 became apparent, large systems turned off the spigot of specialty and nonessential services almost immediately. Now, as these organizations try to entice patients back into services, they face consumers who have good reason to fear the large, populated spaces these systems are built on.

As patients return for care and treatments, large hospitals and health providers need targeted approaches to overcome risk and obstacles. Here are nine strategies to consider for restarting patients:

1. Identify patients and instances with care disruption and high risks associated with care deferral. Knowing which patients are at high risk due to missed appointments plus other risk and time-based analytics will be useful in targeting efforts to bring patients back. Use various technologies to identify prior scheduled procedures and diagnostics.

2. Create a clinical flow for patients in each treatment or appointment category so communication to patients is clear as they are recruited back into the system. The clinical flows should determine which patients will receive telehealth services and who will need physical exams, along with how imaging or laboratory services will be handled to safely address patient time and access to services.

3. Use population health technology to target patients by risk level for services and deferral reasons. Patients who were infected with COVID-19 should be indicated and targeted for services, since this calls for additional surveillance of new risk factors associated with the disease.

4. Contact patients for pre-appointment discussions prior to actual telehealth or personal visits and services. Identify data to collect from patients on symptoms, social determinants and concerns about healthcare or COVID-19 infection so patients can vet their concerns and upcoming discussions with physicians can be more informative.

5. Reimagine the role and functions of some specialists. Because specialty practices are often located in close proximity to many diagnostic services, primary care physicians, who tend to be off campus, can provide initial services in a low-density setting and leave the procedures to specialists.

6. Consider aligning with smaller or more localized services for diagnostics, or provide wearable devices that capture needed clinical data.

7. If feasible, consider whether physical access to some care locations should be redetermined in the short or midterm for patient ease of access.

8. For physical visits or treatments, adjust scheduling to accommodate patient and staff density in clinical or waiting areas.

9. Involve specialists in care and space redesign as well as designing risk criteria. Every specialty will have unique issues that should be accommodated in the design of restarting services.

Planning to improve and strengthen connections to patients in larger healthcare operations will go far toward helping them gain confidence to return during this phase of the pandemic. Now more than ever, we can’t afford a systemwide hit or miss.

 

 

 

 

Surprise medical bills in the coronavirus era

https://www.axios.com/surprise-medical-bills-coronavirus-c61a5529-3272-4edd-b660-35dc61f751b4.html

Surprise medical bills in the coronavirus era - Axios

Rep. Katie Porter recently received an explanation of benefits from her insurer saying that, in addition to the $20 co-pay she paid when she got her coronavirus test, she may be on the hook for an additional $56.60.

The catch: The law requires insurers to cover coronavirus testing without cost-sharing. Porter knows that because she voted for it.

Why it matters: Containing the coronavirus depends on knowing who has it, and it’s going to be much harder to get people to get tested if they think they’ll have to pay for it. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that patients may be vulnerable to surprise coronavirus bills.

Between the lines: Porter, who received a coronavirus test on March 23, has insurance through UnitedHealthcare and shared her explanation of benefits with Axios. Congress has required both the test itself and the associated care to be covered without cost-sharing.

  • In a statement, UnitedHealth Group said it has waived member cost-sharing for coronavirus testing and treatment.
  • “Some members received bills early on when there were not yet specific COVID-19 billing codes and during a period in which code adoption was first taking place,” the company said, adding that it’s waiving those charges and evaluating claims from earlier this year to make sure they were handled correctly.
  • “We are not authorized to talk about [Porter’s] specific situation without permission, however, what likely occurred is that her provider used the wrong billing code for the visit. To confirm if that’s the case and have it corrected, we encourage Rep. Porter to contact us so we can clarify with her directly.”

Yes, but: There’s a huge question of who should have to pay for coronavirus testing as it becomes more prolific, and many insurers — United included — have said that they’ll only cover tests that are “medically necessary,” at least without cost-sharing. It’s unclear who will pay for tests that aren’t deemed medically necessary.

  • The federal government hasn’t said who should pay for testing when, whether it be insurers, employers or the government itself. Insurers are questioning whether they should be on the hook for the hundreds of thousands of tests of asymptomatic people that public health experts say will need to be conducted every day.
  • Even though Congress has tried to resolve payment disputes between insurers and out-of-network labs, there’s a loophole that would allow patients to receive balance bills from out-of-network labs in some circumstances.
  • If a patient sees an out-of-network doctor for a coronavirus test, they’re vulnerable to receiving a surprise medical bill from this provider — just as they are under normal, non-coronavirus conditions, said Loren Adler, associate director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy.

What they’re saying: “We will not be able to truly reopen and rebuild if Americans rightly fear costly medical bills for visiting their health care providers for coronavirus tests,” Porter writes in a letter to top Health and Human Services officials being sent today, asking the administration to implement the law more forcefully.

  • She also asked for “formal, explicit guidance for insurers, providers, employers like nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and testing companies, as well as all 50 states…to ensure patients and workers are not asked to pay any costs.”

 

 

 

 

Telehealth could grow to a $250B revenue opportunity post-COVID-19: analysis

https://www.fiercehealthcare.com/tech/telehealth-could-grow-to-a-250b-revenue-opportunity-post-covid-mckinsey-reports

virtual visit

With the acceleration of consumer and provider adoption of telehealth, a quarter of a trillion dollars in current U.S. healthcare spend could be done virtually, according to a new report.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, consumer adoption of telehealth has skyrocketed, from 11% of U.S. consumers using telehealth in 2019 to 46% of consumers now using telehealth to replace canceled healthcare visit, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s COVID-19 consumer survey conducted in April.

McKinsey’s survey also found that about 76% of consumers say they are highly or moderately likely to use telehealth in the future. Seventy-four percent of people who had used telehealth reported high satisfaction.

Health systems, independent practices, behavioral health providers, and other healthcare organizations rapidly scaled telehealth offerings to fill the gap between need and canceled in-person care. Providers are ready for the shift to virtual care: 57% view telehealth more favorably than they did before COVID-19 and 64% are more comfortable using it, according to McKinsey’s recent provider surveys.

Pre-COVID-19, the total annual revenues of U.S. telehealth players were an estimated $3 billion, with the largest vendors focused on virtual urgent care.

Telehealth is now poised to take a bigger share of the healthcare market as McKinsey estimates that up to $250 billion, or 20% of all Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial outpatient, office, and home health spend could be done virtually.

The consulting firm looked at anonymized claims data representative of commercial, Medicare, and Medicaid utilization.

The company’s claims-based analysis suggests that approximately 20% of all emergency room visits could potentially be avoided via virtual urgent care offerings, 24% of healthcare office visits and outpatient volume could be delivered virtually, and an additional 9% “near-virtually.”

Up to 35% of regular home health attendant services could be virtualized, and 2% of all outpatient volume could be shifted to the home setting, with tech-enabled medication administration.

Many of the dynamics that have helped to expand telehealth adoption are likely to be in place for at least the next 12 to 18 months, as concerns about COVID-19 remain until a vaccine is widely available.

Going forward, telehealth can increase access to necessary care in areas with shortages, such as behavioral health, improve the patient experience, and improve health outcomes, McKinsey reported.

Providers and patients are concerned that recent federal and state policies expanding access to telehealth will be rolled back once the emergency period ends.

Industry groups, including the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME), are calling on lawmakers to ensure the changes enacted by Congress and the administration become permanent.

McKinsey’s research indicates providers’ concerns about telehealth include security, workflow integration, effectiveness compared with in-person visits, and the future for reimbursement.

“We call on Medicare and all other insurers to continue to fund telehealth programs and work collaboratively on coverage and coding to lessen provider burden. We cannot go back to pre-COVID telehealth; instead, we must go forward. Patients will demand it and providers will expect it,” CHIME CEO and President Russell Branzell said in a recent statement.

Telehealth also is drawing bipartisan support. Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., urged Congress to “continue to support this expansion and codify the administration’s changes to support the health needs of the American people,” in a recent news release.

Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Illinois, is introducing a bill directing HHS Secretary Alex Azar to oversee a telehealth study looking at the technology’s impact on health and costs, Politico reported in its newsletter today.

 

Taking advantage of the telehealth opportunity

Healthcare providers and payers will need to take action to ensure the full potential of telehealth is realized after the crisis has passed, according to McKinsey.

There continue to be challenges as providers cite concerns about telehealth include security, workflow integration, effectiveness compared with in-person visits, and the future for reimbursement. There also is a gap between consumers’ interest in telehealth (76%) and actual usage (46%). Factors such as lack of awareness of telehealth offerings and understanding of insurance coverage are some of the drivers of this gap.

“The current crisis has demonstrated the relevance of telehealth and created an opening to modernize the care delivery system,” McKinsey consultants wrote. “Healthcare systems that come out ahead will be those who act decisively, invest to build capabilities at scale, work hard to rewire the care delivery model, and deliver distinctive high-quality care to consumers.”

McKinsey outlined steps industry stakeholders should take to drive the growth of telehealth.

 

Payers: Health plans should look to optimize provider networks and accelerate value-based contracting to incentivize telehealth. Align incentives for using telehealth, particularly for chronic patients, with the shift to risk-based payment models.

Payers also should build virtual health into new product designs to meet changing consumer preferences, This new design may include virtual-first networks, digital front-door features (for example, e-triage), seamless “plug-and-play” capabilities to offer innovative digital solutions, and benefit coverage for at-home diagnostic kits.

 

Health systems: Hospitals and health systems should accelerate the development of an overall consumer-integrated “front door.” Consider what the integrated product will initially cover beyond what currently exists and integrate with what may have been put in place in response to COVID-19, for example, e-triage, scheduling, clinic visits, record access.

Providers also should build the capabilities and incentives of the provider workforce to support virtual care, including, workflow design, centralized scheduling, and continuing education. And, health systems need to take steps to measure the value of virtual care by quantifying clinical outcomes, access improvement, and patient/provider satisfaction. Include the potential value from telehealth when contracting with payers for risk models to manage chronic patients, McKinsey said.

 

Investors and health technology firms: These players also can support the new reality of expanded telehealth services. Technology firms should consider developing scenarios on how virtual health will evolve and when, including how usage evolved post-COVID-19, based on expected consumer preferences, reimbursement, CMS and other regulations.

Investors also should develop potential options and define investment strategies based on the expected virtual health future. For example, combinations of existing players/platforms, linkages between in-person and virtual care offerings and create sustainable value. Investors and technology companies also can identify the assets and capabilities to implement these options, including specific assets or capabilities to best enable the play, and business models that will deliver attractive returns.

 

 

 

 

Hospitals Emptied Out by Pandemic Push for Patients to Return

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-04/dear-patient-we-want-you-back-for-that-knee-replacement

Empty Emergency Rooms Worry Doctors as Heart Attack, Stroke ...

After months of lock down, hospitals are eager to get patients back for routine care and elective procedures.

An executive at a Palm Beach hospital stands between a box of surgical masks and a Purell dispenser.

“We understand you haven’t been inside our hospitals for some time,” she says to the camera. The executive is delivering her line for a promotional video intended to get people back to hospitals after almost three months of avoiding the place at all costs. 

Moments later, the film crew records her chatting with a vascular surgeon in an idled operating room, who soothingly reassures that  a hospital is the cleanest place to be outside your home. “The hospital is safer than the grocery store,” the doctor says.

The video published on YouTube in mid-May is part of a marketing campaign by Tenet Healthcare, which operates 65 hospitals and about 250 ambulatory surgery centers. It’s one attempt to solve a problem the entire health-care industry faces: Most patients vanished when Covid-19 swept the country.

Billions in Losses

Much of routine health care came to a halt in March as hospitals cleared space for an expected wave of Covid-19 patients and authorities ordered a halt to surgeries and other procedures that could be postponed. The decline in volume has clobbered hospital finances, with the industry estimating it is losing $50 billion a month.

Emergency visits dropped by 42% in four weeks in April compared to the same period last year, the Centers for Disease Control reported June 3. The number of U.S. patients getting hospital care dropped by more than half in late March and early April compared to 2019, according to data from Strata Decision Technology, which provides software to hospitals.

Some of that rebounded modestly in May as distancing rules eased, but hospital volume is nowhere near pre-Covid levels. With the pandemic ongoing and many states still confirming hundreds of new cases daily, patients are hesitating to rush back to hospitals.

“The main thing that really is a gating factor at this point is patient comfort,” Tenet President and Chief Operating Officer Saumya Sutaria said at a recent virtual conference with investors. Tenet declined interview requests.

Free Masks

To counter the public’s fears, hospitals publicize what they’re doing to keep patients safe. They’re handing out masks at the door and spacing out chairs in waiting rooms. They’re steering Covid-19 patients to dedicated sites and testing staff regularly.

Hospitals need to show patients that their facilities are safe. At Catholic hospital chain Trinity Health, that includes moving patients through “Covid-free” zones with separate doors, elevators and waiting areas.

“We can put all of the outreach and marketing in place, but it’s only as effective as the people who execute those strategies,” said Julie Spencer Washington, Trinity’s chief marketing and communications officer.

The question for the entire industry is how quickly patients come back. The answer will depend on a constellation of related variables, including how reluctant people are to resume care, and the course of the pandemic. Future surges could force hospitals to shut down regular care again — and spook patients further.

Hospitals and doctors are going to have to do as much as they can as fast as they can until they can’t anymore,” said Lisa Bielamowicz, co-founder of consultancy Gist Healthcare.

Many patients, on the other hand, are in no rush. “They’re waiting and watching rather than pulling the trigger and going to see the doctor like they would have in the past,” Bielamowicz said.

The calculation for the health-care industry is different than for many other service businesses resuming operations. A hospital procedure or even a check-up is more intimate than a meal out.

For procedures that require in-patient rehab stints for recovery, the havoc Covid-19 has brought to nursing homes adds another layer of concern. “Those places seem like deathtraps now, so it’s much harder to bring back those patients because you need to find an alternative way for them to rehab,” Bielamowicz said.

And the biggest consumers of health care are the elderly and the chronically ill, the very people Covid-19 most threatens. “From personal discussions with my patients, the older and more co-morbidities that any individual has, the more nervous they are about returning,” said Shauna Gulley, chief clinical officer at Centura Health, which has hospitals in Colorado and Kansas.

Patients with serious ongoing needs like cancer treatment or emergencies like heart attacks and strokes have continued to get care. And many medical problems resolve on their own. The decline in those visits – for a migraine headache, for example – reduces providers’ revenue but may not harm patients in the long-term.

While people often go to the emergency room for needs better treated in other settings, now the concern is the opposite: That true medical emergencies will be neglected.

Ascension, the nation’s largest Catholic hospital chain, has purchased billboards that say “Don’t delay ER care.” On hospital websites and social media posts, Tenet facilities reminded patients that “Emergencies Can’t wait. We’re Open & Safe.”

Deferred Care

Doctors fear that some patients will defer needed care too long, allowing progressive conditions to deteriorate. Clinicians at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, have seen patients arrive sicker because they didn’t come earlier, said Ken Gibbs, the hospital’s CEO.

“There are unmet needs, I think that’s clear,” he said. “And I think the data on that will emerge, but it will take time.”

Maimonides treated 471 Covid patients at the peak on April 9, Gibbs said, and still had about 100 in late May. The hospital has applied for a waiver from New York State to resume elective surgeries, which are still on hold in New York City.

Some hospitals are preparing for a lasting dent in their revenue. For years, health economists have pointed to waste in the health-care system, with the estimated cost of unnecessary treatments in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Covid-19 may demonstrate that patients are willing to forego some of that care or opt for more conservative treatment.

People who had delayed back surgeries, for example, may now decide that doing physical therapy at home is good enough, said Marvin O’Quinn, president and chief operating officer at CommonSpirit Health, a large Catholic hospital system.

“We’ve all talked about too much intervention in health care in the past,” he said. “I think we’ll see a new normal in terms of what patients want to do and what doctors want to do, and we will have to adjust to that.”