How Oscar Health is harnessing its tech-enabled DNA amid the COVID-19 crisis 

As a health plan built on tech, Oscar Health was in strong position to respond to the growing need for telehealth and digital outreach to members amid the COVID-19 outbreak."

So we caught up rcently with Neil Parikh, M.D., senior medical director of care delivery at Oscar, to learn more about how the insurer has been able to harness its suite of technology tools to help its members navigate the crisis. 

“Oscar has approached the COVID crisis by attempting to put together a holistic approach to the COVID crisis, recognizing that it’s all of our digital engagement channels that are required to come together in order to help guide our members through this anxious and uncertain time,” Parikh said. 

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That effort has included the launch of a digital screening tool that’s been accessed by 27,900 people, including some non-members, and leading the charge on telehealth. Oscar Medical Group has seen 62% more telehealth visits per 1,000 members in March 2020 compared to March 2019, about 20% of which are directly related to COVID-19. 

Here’s more from our conversation:  

FierceHealthcare: What steps are you taking to address this crisis? 

Neil Parikh: It’s really the entire suite of options that are allowing us to service the breadth of questions that are coming our way. 

With telemedicine specifically, we’ve been trying to take an approach of setting up our clinicians to able to provide both top of license and the most meaningful care to our members, which in this time is largely trying to guide them through their anxieties around COVID to try to keep them out of healthcare settings that are being largely overwhelmed by all of the very serious COVID cases that are out there. And then to be able to provide any sort of guidance on testing options when and where they’re available and how to manage symptoms supportively during this period of time. 

We launched what we called our COVID risk assessment tool approximately three weeks ago and the intent of this tool was to be able to provide our members a pathway to understand their symptoms and their exposure and what type of risk it puts them at. It not only allowed members to understand what their risk was, but it also helped to trigger appropriate next steps.

FH: Oscar made the code for the assessment tool available through open source. Why was that important to you? 

NP: At the outset of this crisis, I think we recognized fairly quickly that a tool like this was going to be essential not just for our members but for the nation at large. So immediately as we started building it, we did not restrict it to our members but made it as publicly available as possible. 

FH: Tech is built into Oscar’s brand. Was it a significant challenge to ramp up your tools to address this pandemic? 

NP: There were, I think, a number of challenges, mostly with just the climate in general. Our teams were moving out of the office into a work from home setting, and our teams were also dealing with the anxiety of COVID not just for themselves but for also their families. 

Our healthcare providers were also feeling a call to duty and call to action to be on the front lines, not just in a virtual or telemedicine capacity but also in a physical capacity in many cases. 

So, I think the challenges that we faced were certainly unique to the time but not necessarily unique to us. That being said, the way that our collective team rallied was awe-inspiring. We had a number of teams from all over the company come together and in so many cases leverage a number of the tools and technologies that we had already built and simply piece them together to be able to point them toward a new challenge  

I think that why we were able to do this so quickly is that a lot of the core infrastructure was already in place. None of us would have wished for a circumstance like this, but it certainly did prove to be an opportunity for us to leverage our existing technology in a relatively novel way. 

FH: What are some lessons you can take from this experience to an emergency situation in the future? 

NP: I think hopefully in the coming weeks and months we’ll all actually be able to take a moment to step back and see how we responded, where we had an opportunity to do better and where the health system in general had an opportunity to do better. 

I will say one of the most important lessons, and this was already maybe kind of part of the Oscar DNA but really played out, was the importance of transparency and delivering timely information back to our members and patients. 

FH: What do you think are the next concerns in addressing this pandemic? 

NP: I think a lot of energy, and rightly so, has been invested in the concern for the COVID-infected, the people who have contracted the disease. We are certainly in the phase now where we have to pay attention to the people who are COVID affected, folks that may not necessarily have contracted COVID but their access to healthcare has otherwise been compromised or disrupted by the pandemic. 

So we’re really pivoting a lot of energy to try to fill in primary care gaps for our members that can’t necessarily go to the pharmacy to get their drugs or might not be able to see their primary care provider because their office is closed. Using all of our virtual tools, we’re able to help fill those gaps and potentially help provide some continuity over the weeks and months.  

Really that next phase where chronic disease management and access to primary care that might be disrupted is something that’s going to be fundamental in making sure that we can keep supporting our healthcare system.