Eighteen months ago, the thought of logging onto your computer or punching an app on your phone for medical visits was widely viewed as outrageous or even impossible. Fast-forward to the present and the practice has grown so common during the pandemic that healthcare providers are now rolling out telemedicine subscription services to provide bulk users with a volume discount.
While telemedicine users and appointments increased exponentially last year when there was often no alternative, from an average of 529,00 visits per month to more than 12 million at its peak, demand for these video visits has dropped by about one-third in recent months, to about 8.8 million per month.
Still, even with the precipitous recent monthly drop, the average number of monthly telemedicine visits is more than 15 times than it was pre-pandemic.
That’s why health care professionals still see massive potential in turning those claimants into subscribers through telemedicine subscription services. It’s a unique way for the medical community to keep these virtual visits at the top of people’s minds as concern about the spread of COVID-19 wanes as more Americans get vaccinated, state restrictions are lifted and life returns to some form of “business as usual.”
A Post-Pandemic Pop
While appointments are admittedly down from their pandemic-peak, there are at least two huge reasons why digital medicine looks set to make a rebound, namely Amazon and Walmart.
Both retailers have already dipped their toes into the healthcare subscription game while other big companies, such as Apple, CVS and Walgreens, have also entered this arena, meaning there’s a high probability that new patients will start to consider telemedicine again. After all, who really needs to drive to an office, sit in a waiting room and wait six weeks for the next available appointment when there’s a fast, safe and cheap option available?
“Telehealth offers a great opportunity to expand access and reach consumers where they are, and complements our brick-and-mortar Walmart Health locations,” said Dr. Cheryl Pegus, Walmart’s EVP of health and wellness, in announcing the retailer’s acquisition of MeMD in May. “Today, people expect omnichannel access to care, and adding telehealth to our Walmart Health care strategies allows us to provide in-person and digital care across our multiple assets and solutions,” Pegus added, noting the company’s dual health and wellness mission was to focus on a seamless experience and improved heath.
“We are looking forward to accelerating healthcare access across the country, Pegus added.
For its part, Amazon’s virtual primary care business, Amazon Care, also announced last month that it has landed its first employer customer, Precor. The Precor news follows Amazon’s announcement earlier this year of plans to expand Amazon Care to employees in all 50 states starting this summer, and to make the service available to other employers.
“Amazon Benefits has been the enterprise customer that we’ve been serving to date. Now, looking at other enterprises, understanding their needs, we think a lot of the needs are similar,” said Kristen Helton, director of Amazon Care.
The fitness equipment manufacturer will be charged based on how many of its 800 employees actually use its services each month. Amazon Care’s pay-per-user model is considered an attractive option for larger employers, which have been paying high fixed costs based on the size of their employee base.
How Telemedicine Subscriptions Work
A subscription to Alpha Medical costs $120 a year (or $40 every three months for those who prefer a shorter commitment at a higher price) and promises “unlimited messaging” with a provider, though no in-person treatment or prescriptions are covered.
But the latest iteration of “telehealth” promoted for everything from therapy to birth control, including by Alpha, will not look like telehealth as most patients understand it.
Right now, most telehealth visits are a live conversation with a doctor, usually your own, either on the phone or on video chat.
Now, proponents of a new business model want patients and doctors to adopt “asynchronous” or “store-and-forward” care — you answer a series of questions in a detailed intake form, then a doctor you may never meet reviews them and may or may not message you, and then issues a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Why People Want Telemedicine Subscriptions
For those who think the idea of subscribing to their health checkups sounds far-fetched, remember when you used to think the very same thing about subscribing to an entertainment platform such as Netflix and Hulu? And it wasn’t long ago when getting medicine or dog food delivered through the mail sounded crazy too.
Most of us pay monthly subscriptions on our smartphones for what we’re told is regular maintenance and overall upkeep. Surely, our bodies deserve the same privilege — and subscriptions to telemedicine services allow that.
There will of course still be people who feel more comfortable meeting their doctors face-to-face rather than screen-to-screen. The proliferation of telemedicine subscriptions won’t mean those people who like to open up and say “ahh” in person can’t do that anymore.
It just means more options for patients to get the type of treatment they want from wherever they want it — and if there’s one thing the healthcare sector needs, it’s a level of simplicity for its customers.