The Growth Channel

3 reasons why your virtual urgent care program isn't achieving ROI—and what you can do about it.

by Samara Ford and Domenica Gilbert

Telehealth has become an attractive addition to the urgent care landscape. For one, virtual visits can save patients travel time, increase provider capacity, and even reach patients who previously lacked a PCP. What's more, virtual visits can deliver on sought-after consumer preferences, building loyalty down the road.

Ready-to-present slides: Telehealth market trends for 2019

However, when it comes to generating profitability, programs are often disappointed by the financial performance of their virtual urgent care offering. We looked at the numbers and identified three reasons that virtual urgent care is slow to yield a profit—and what you can do about it.

1. Low direct revenue per case

Virtual urgent care tends to take two forms: a questionnaire-style e-visit, and a Skype-style video visit. These options commonly cost $25 and $50, respectively. Many patients seen through these avenues would have gone to a higher-cost care setting, such as in-person urgent care, their PCP, or an ED. Considering that a single in-person urgent care visit could cost $100, systems implementing virtual urgent care would need two to four times the volumes to see a comparable amount of revenue.

What you can do about it: Look beyond direct revenue to prove ROI. Even though telehealth may not help you generate direct revenue, there are still benefits to be realized. For example, this study shows that virtual urgent care can attract new system patients who eventually seek in-person care. Evaluate telehealth "return" along with metrics that help you evaluate whether you've achieved your goals, such as growth or value-based care initiatives.

2. Overall adoption is low

Many telehealth leaders are enamored by high growth rates for virtual visits; yet, volumes are still low. In 2016, telehealth accounted for less than 1% of total outpatient visits.

What you can do about it: Drive adoption through targeted marketing. Rather than marketing your telehealth program itself as a differentiator, market how your virtual urgent care practice can help patients, the same way you would promote any urgent care service. For example, Spectrum Health's MedNow program saw a 40% open rate for marketing emails that directly mentioned cold and flu symptoms.

3. Many players vie for what volumes do exist

Just like CVS Minute Clinic gave consumers more access to in-person urgent care, retailers are similarly beginning to offer patients convenient virtual care offerings. For example, in summer 2018, we saw retailers such as CVS and RiteAid forming partnerships with telehealth vendors with the goal of directing patients to their platforms. The majority of major insurers also offer free or highly subsidized virtual visits, and vendors like American Well or Teladoc are already offering their products directly to consumers.

What you can do about it:  Differentiate your product by appealing to patient preferences. According to our Virtual Visits Consumer Preferences Survey, consumers say the most important attribute of a virtual visit offering is being able to see their regular provider virtually, which is a unique value that health systems can offer their patients. Try framing your telehealth offerings as an extension of your primary care team and keep your branding consistent across your virtual and in-person care visits.

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