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A New Generation of Health Plans Offers Virtual Care, First

A Digitally Enabled Healthcare Story
February 14, 2024

Digital health technology has grown exponentially in recent years, boosted in part by the virtual care that many people received during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers have become more comfortable with virtual healthcare, and many want the option of digital methods — meeting with a health professional through a computer, smartphone or tablet — when it comes to managing their day-to-day health. 

A recent study showed that for those who have used virtual primary care, nearly four in five (79%) agree it has enabled them to take more charge of their health. And 94% of those who have used this care say they’re satisfied with the experience.

It’s easy to see why. Virtual care works for more people who are tight on time or have difficulty finding transportation to a doctor’s office. Increasingly, traditional office hours of nine to five, Monday through Friday, can be barriers to obtaining care. Virtual visits can also help reduce the spread of illnesses if people don’t have to leave their homes to get care.

And virtual care is becoming more important for rural communities, places with limited public transportation, and places with few care providers. That’s a key point in efforts to expand broadband internet access.

Because it’s easy to use, virtual care can help people become more confident in their healthcare journey. Such a positive experience might encourage them to engage more consistently with their health and healthcare providers."

Morgan Kendrick

Executive Vice President, Elevance Health and President, Commercial and Specialty Health Benefits

“Healthcare, like a lot of industries, has become more flexible and personal because people have come to expect an exceptional experience,” said Morgan Kendrick, executive vice president, Elevance Health and president, commercial and specialty health benefits. “We all have increasingly busy schedules, and we all want the freedom to interact on our own terms and receive services in ways that are simple and convenient. As an industry, we need to set up healthcare services so they aren’t that different from experiences people have accessing other services, such as shopping or ordering groceries.”

Among people surveyed, 2 out of 5 say they wish their care provider used more digital forms of communication, such as text messages and emails. And 71% say they would use a mobile texting app to chat with a primary care provider if they had access to it.

Research shows that convenience and accessibility are among the top traits people like or find most appealing about virtual care.

“We know that people want the ability to chat with a doctor from wherever they are,” Kendrick said. “They like the on-demand nature, 24/7 availability, and simplicity. Health plans have noticed, and many are offering plans that prioritize virtual care.”

The Elevance Health affiliate health plans specializing in virtual care, for example, offer quick and affordable access to high-quality virtual primary care. Plan features include:

  • Helping people manage chronic conditions with continuous monitoring, medication counseling, support groups, nutrition coaching, and exercise plans.
  • Mental health and substance use disorder care, along with tips for routine wellness care.
  • Members who join the plan also have the option of visiting a care provider in person.

By making virtual care a convenient and primary choice, such plans can make care more affordable through a variety of cost-share options, including no deductible and no coinsurance.

Employers can benefit as well, as they work hard to tailor their healthcare plans -- based on employee feedback and priorities, as well as current trends. With inflation, the rising cost of prescriptions, and more people reengaging with their healthcare after the pandemic, employers are looking for proven, cost-effective tools to meet the health needs of their employees. Plans that start with virtual care can help close gaps in care, improve access to quality care, and reduce the cost of care without compromising quality.

Healthcare can be less fragmented and easier to navigate when the first step is virtual. Important data can be moved between virtual providers, in-person doctors, and specialists. For consumers, that means a more seamless experience, less shuttling between offices, and fewer forms to fill out.

“Because it’s easy to use, virtual care can help people become more confident in their healthcare journey,” Kendrick said. “Such a positive experience might encourage them to engage more consistently with their health and healthcare providers, rather than avoid care. And that means more preventive care, and better health outcomes.”

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