Virtual health is here to stay following a massive increase in use during the pandemic, but employers believe that it needs to evolve, a new survey shows.
Nearly three-quarters (74%) of the 135 large employers surveyed this summer by the Business Group on Health said virtual care will have a major impact on care delivery in the future. However, 84% believe it is necessary to integrate virtual and in-person services to ensure success.
They worry that a lack of integration could lead to unnecessary care, duplicate services, wasteful spending and a fragmented experience for patients, according to the group. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed expressed concern about the fragmentation, and 60% worried about a lack of integration between providers.
In addition, 57% expressed concern about the quality of care through virtual platforms, according to the survey.
Despite the concerns, employers are not cutting off virtual care benefits, said Brenna Shebel, vice president of the Business Group on Health, in a briefing this week with reporters. People working at most large employers will be able to use telehealth, virtual mental health and virtual resiliency offerings, she said.
"If you’re an employee of a large employer, you will more likely than not have access to these three programs," Shebel said.
One area employers view as particularly promising, according to the survey, is virtual primary care. About 32% of those surveyed said they will offer virtual primary care services in 2023, and 69% said they may offer such services in 2025.
Eddie Gammill, senior director of health and benefits at WTW, told Fierce Healthcare in an interview that in building strategies around virtual care, employers will have to consider how patient preferences have evolved in the wake of COVID-19.
The convenience factor makes it attractive to many people, and, while virtual care may not be viable for every patient need, it is well positioned to manage a number of conditions in a venue where patients feel comfortable and in a way that often better fits their schedules, he wrote in a blog post.
"There are going to be some things are just never going to be appropriate for virtual, but for a lot of things it’s here to stay," Gammill said.