Fine-tuning telehealth, addressing mental health take precedence for providers in 2021



Looking ahead to 2021, healthcare organizations will need to re-examine their telehealth efforts while also adjusting to uncertain patient volumes and contending with a mental health epidemic in America, according to a report by PwC’s Health Research Institute.

For the report, the institute surveyed 2,511 American consumers and 153 provider executives in August and September.

Virtual visits exploded in 2020, but telehealth is not built to support all healthcare services and processes equally well. About 92% of healthcare provider leaders said that their organizations are using telehealth for primary care services, of which 68% said telehealth has been most useful for follow-up appointments. But only 17% of provider leaders said telehealth was useful for ongoing care management.

In addition, consumers have their own gripes about telehealth, with 53% saying that they encountered at least one issue during their virtual visit. The most frequently cited issue was technical difficulties. Minorities were more likely to have experienced a problem during their visit — 66% of Black and 65% of Latinx consumers said they experienced at least one issue, as compared with 49% of white consumers.

In 2021, healthcare organizations will also have to address a rapidly growing mental health crisis among Americans. Around 32% of consumers surveyed said they had experienced anxiety or depression as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time of the survey, 43% of provider executives said they were offering telehealth for mental health, and 58% said they plan to offer it for psychiatry and other mental health services in 2021.

But there are several hurdles to growing telehealth programs, with healthcare provider leaders citing reimbursement (52%) and retaining patients for ancillary services (40%) as the biggest ones. [Click to enlarge image]

“Figuring out the most efficient way to deliver virtual care is crucial for long-term sustainability,” the report states.

In addition, the pandemic has changed patient volume patterns across the industry. More than half of consumers (53%) said they were still afraid of going to the doctor during the pandemic, and only 37% said they were getting information from their physician or local hospital/health system about when it was safe to return for care.

“In 2021, healthcare leaders should not rest on the assumptions from past trends; they should be willing to build and monitor their radars to pivot when the environment changes,” the report states.

But there have been some positive developments in the industry as a result of the pandemic, namely an increase in collaboration. Around 73% of healthcare provider executives said they were starting to collaborate or had plans to collaborate with other providers and payers as a result of the pandemic, and 65% said they had plans to collaborate with public health agencies.

Photo credit: Courtney Hale, Getty Images, PwC


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