Telehealth has seen a huge boost during the COVID-19 pandemic as people practice social distancing and avoid going to their doctor’s office in person when possible.
But people aren’t just participating in remote visits for fevers and sore throats. They are also seeking out the advice and guidance of specialty providers through virtual sessions.
Virtual specialist care company Summus Global has released new data showing that the utilization rate of its platform jumped by 3.1 times between January 2020 and January 2021. In addition, the company says its membership has grown by 1,095% during that period.
A virtual care visit lets patients connect in a videoconference with a doctor who asks about their medical history and specific issues. The physicians can help with minor injuries such as an ankle sprain or more serious conditions such as cancer. If they have an ankle injury, patients get directed to get an X-ray in person. A remote orthopedist can then evaluate the X-ray and set up a remote visit.
Founded in 2015, Summus sells to both employers and large health systems, including academic medical centers.
“We're putting a virtual specialist solution inside of AMCs to help them scale their top specialist expertise,” said Julian Flannery, the company’s founder and CEO.
Summus provides health navigation and sets patients up with consultations within its network of more than 4,000 specialists across 48 hospitals.
“They're going to help you understand your medical history and the different types of paths you might consider,” Flannery said.
Summus then directs patients to an expert physician in the network such as an oncologist, a mental health professional or an orthopedist. Summus also directs patients to in-person care. It could be a specialist in another state. If patients have to travel for surgery, they can do follow-up virtual visits with the physician.
The virtual specialty care category of telehealth includes doctors that provide both second opinions and resources called navigators, which help patients understand their insurance plans and copays, and then direct the patient to physicians in their plan.
Summus sits between the second opinion and navigator categories because it can expand the “funnel” for employers using the platform, according to Flannery.
“They can come to us with really any health question that requires access to specialists,” Flannery said. “We're able to deploy high-quality specialists to help them understand their health concerns, make decisions and understand different treatment protocols across any health issue,” Flannery said.
Other companies that provide a navigator service to employers include Accolade, which went public in July.
Oncology, orthopedics and complex pediatrics were the leading areas of virtual specialist care that saw the largest growth in 2020, according to Summus. Along with COVID-19 support and mental health consultations, the company saw an average of 50% growth in these areas of care.
The company also connects patients with allergy treatment for kids as well as developmental issues. It can also escalate care to other experts who will be able to access patients’ history and electronic health records.
In fact, 61% of specialist interactions drove improved patient outcomes, and 96% of engagements led Summus members to gain more knowledge about their treatment options and paths, according to the company.
Virtual specialty care can lead to improved health outcomes, according to Summus.
“We're really solving for that knowledge gap among healthcare consumers by giving them fast access to really high-quality doctors across the healthcare system,” Flannery said.
When the pandemic ends, there may be a return to more in-person physician visits, but virtual care will continue to grow as well, he said.
“Obviously in-person care will come back post-COVID, but I think the adoption of virtual mediums is very much here to stay,” Flannery said. “Top health systems are really focused on expanding their digital footprint, expanding their front doors for virtual care, and I don't see that changing at all in the next two years and beyond.”