Telehealth vendors experienced a major business boom last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many believe the increased demand will stick around in 2021, too, driven by a need to constantly monitor vulnerable populations in the home setting.
Synzi — a St. Petersburg, Florida-based company that provides virtual visit and messaging tools via its telehealth platform — is among those bullish on this year’s outlook. So is the Hoboken, New Jersey-based Health Recovery Solutions.
On its end, Synzi specifically saw a huge surge in demand during the second and third quarters of 2020, both in terms of new and current clients. Some of that demand came from home-based care providers, including clients like Excelin Home Health, Trilogy Home Healthcare, Concierge Home Care and others.
“Our inbound interest went up by almost 100% from our volumes prior to COVID,” Lee Horner, founder and CEO of Synzi, told Home Health Care News. “And we continue to see inbound interest occur.”
More than a year into the public health emergency, Synzi is still hearing from new home-based care providers interested in implementing the company’s services, Horner added.
Broadly, he believes Synzi’s history of working with established home-based care providers has played a key role in attracting smaller providers that may be new to working with telehealth.
Only 11% of patients in the U.S. were using telehealth in 2019. By contrast, 46% of patients were using telehealth in lieu of traditional health care visits in 2020, according to a survey by McKinsey & Company.
Telehealth becomes a necessity
HRS was among the very first organizations to flag a sudden spike in telehealth and remote patient monitoring demand in 2020. Back in spring, that spike actually forced HRS to drastically expand its own warehouse space.
Overall, HRS ended up tripling in revenue growth last year, CEO and co-founder Jarrett Bauer told HHCN. The home-based care industry’s collective view of telehealth has shifted forever, he noted.
“Before COVID, [telehealth] was a ‘nice to have,’” he said. “Now, it’s a necessity.”
Part of that “necessity” is linked to the fact payment is often tied to visits and the delivery of services in the home. Providers were restricted from in-person visits during parts of 2020 due to exposure concerns, prompting them to embrace virtual care whenever financially viable.
“Home care is dependent on seeing people in person for their billing cycles to happen,” Bauer said. “Necessity is the mother of innovation. There was a necessity to switch to technology and cut unnecessary skilled nursing visits … to make sure that business can continue.”
Among its services, HRS provides health systems and home health care agencies with a comprehensive remote monitoring platform that allows clinicians to collect and manage patient data. Additionally, the company provides logistics management and patient support tools.
Since launching in 2012, HRS has worked with a number of home health organizations and health systems to implement its telehealth solution. That list includes Community VNA, Ohio Living Home Health and Hospice and Well Care Home Health.
Currently, the company works with roughly 220 providers.
When mapping out their 2021 budgets, many home-based care leaders pointed to technology and telehealth as top spending categories. Such is the case for Interim HealthCare Inc., a Sunrise, Florida-based in-home care franchise company with more than 300 locations across the U.S.
“We have really accelerated our use of telehealth to increase our ability to meet patients,” Jennifer Sheets, president and CEO of Interim, told HHCN. “We are always looking for ways to leverage technology. We’re looking at a few very critical investments.”
Bauer noted that HRS’s average home-based care client has increased their telehealth budget by about 50%.
“Telehealth does a great job addressing all the issues with the pandemic,” he said. “The other part that we’re not hitting on is the shift in culture. There’s a new way of interacting with people. There’s a new comfort level. We’ve always believed that ‘website manner’ was going to replace bedside manner. That just amplified over the last couple of months.”
In addition to the statistics from McKinsey & Company, the expected demand for telehealth and remote patient monitoring technology is highlighted by a recent HHCN-Homecare Homebase survey.
More than half of surveyed providers identified chronic disease management as a type of telehealth technology their organization planned to invest in this year. About 47% said they earmarked funds for vital sign monitoring.
Moving forward, providers who haven’t already strongly pivoted to telehealth will likely lose their competitive edge over industry peers, Horner predicted.
“Health care … has changed forever with the introduction of COVID, unfortunately,” he said. “It’s changed not only because of the requirements that are now being pushed down on the home health organizations, but the requirements from the referral organizations that are trying to leverage home health organizations to deliver care.”
Horner noted that requirements from health systems and hospitals have forced home-based care providers to utilize technology and adopt more sophisticated ways of engaging with patients and delivering care.
“Those that aren’t moving into the new age of how to deliver care from the home health perspective are really falling behind,” Horner said. “Ultimately, they’re not going to see the referral and the revenue stream that’s associated with this marketplace come to fruition for them.”
As COVID-19 cases continue to fluctuate across the country, the telehealth market is poised for continued growth over the next few years.
Before the public health emergency, the annual revenues of U.S. telehealth players were an estimated $3 billion. In the coming years, this could skyrocket up to an estimated $250 billion, according to McKinsey & Company data.