The Growth Channel

Should you give away virtual visits?


Rachel Reeves, Marketing and Planning Leadership Council

Recognizing an opportunity to reduce inappropriate ED utilization, payers are beginning to reimburse providers for virtual visits for low-acuity episodic and chronic care. Now, some payers are proactively directing their beneficiaries to online care with coupons for free trials.

In August, BCBSMN distributed over 4,000 vouchers for virtual visits at the Minnesota State Fair to boost awareness and facilitate trial of their Online Care Anywhere program, offered in partnership with American Well. The program offers 24/7 access to webcam visits with a physician for conditions such as cold and flu symptoms, allergies, and acne. 


Returns beyond revenue?

Although most providers have been reluctant to offer virtual visits without the promise of reimbursement, for some, these services generate returns beyond direct revenue:

  1. Utilization management: Virtual visits can help prevent unnecessary ED and acute care utilization by health system employees and other groups, such as patients under value-based contracts, for whom providers are at-risk.

  2. Access expansion: Virtual visits typically require less provider time than in-person appointments, allowing providers to care for more patients and preserving in-person appointments for more complex care. Dr. Peter Antell, American Well’s Medical Director, notes that virtual visits will help address increased demand from newly insured patients who gain health care coverage in 2014.

  3. Share protection: As physician referral networks tighten and population managers use primary care for panel attribution, capturing primary care market share is increasingly essential to securing share across the full continuum. Virtual visits provide an opportunity to engage new patients and discourage existing patients from seeking urgent care at a competitor’s facility.

As other payers wake up to the benefits of virtual visits, they—like BCBSMN—may develop their own virtual visit programs. Providers who are late to the game may miss their chance to boost market share or benefit from savings from improved utilization management.

More on Virtual Visits

How can you seize these potential returns at your own organization? Read our white paper, Telehealth: Driving Adoption of Virtual Visits, to learn how to successfully implement a virtual visit program that meets your strategic goals.