Experts: COVID's telehealth boom giving patients an 'overwhelming drive for self-empowerment'

A person talks to their doctor on their phone with a laptop in the background
Fierce Healthcare hosted a panel Tuesday looking at how virtual care builds from its boom under COVID-19. (Getty/airdone)

It's not a secret that COVID-19 has dramatically increased the demand for and interest in digital health.

Matthew Stoudt, co-founder and CEO of AppliedVR, said that there is an "overwhelming drive for self-empowerment" that patients are now beginning to experience as they embrace virtual healthcare services.

"The more that people are becoming digitally comfortable, the more they feel like they can actually start to take control of their own healthcare," Stoudt said.

This is especially true, he said, for seniors, who often have a longer learning curve with new technology. But as more Americans age into Medicare, the senior population is also increasingly tech-savvy, he said.

WATCH THE PANEL ON-DEMAND: Where is digital health headed in 2021?

Stoudt spoke as part of a panel hosted this week by Fierce Healthcare focused on where telehealth goes from here and was joined by Connie Chen, M.D., chief medical officer at Lyra Health and Pat Carroll, M.D., chief medical officer at Hims & Hers.

Stoudt said that while the demand is there, the biggest challenge is maintaining the supply to meet that need. Health insurers are still working out what reimbursement looks like in the long-term for virtual care, and if the money isn't there, providers won't continue to offer the services in such high numbers, he said.

"I think that’s going to be one of the key elements to driving up the supply side," he said. "The demand is out there."

Carroll said that as Hims & Hers has a large millennial patient base, the team learned quickly that they're expecting a very consumer-centric experience: transparent prices and scheduling to fit their lives.

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He said "the patient will no longer be patient" in their expectations.

"It's definitely going to outlast the pandemic," Carroll said.

As Lyra Health focuses on providing mental and behavioral health benefits to employers, Chen said that the pandemic has clearly shown that the virtual care arena works for people who need behavioral healthcare.

This is especially true as COVID-19 substantially increased the number of people seeking out mental health services in general. She said Lyra saw an 80% increase in weekly engagement with its platforms as a result of the pandemic.

That includes a growing number of people reporting severe needs, including a 30% increase in people who are reporting thoughts of suicide or self-harm, she said.

"What’s heartbreaking is that’s been paired with an increasing severity in the symptoms that clients are coming to care with," Chen said.