The human toll of the coronavirus only continues to mount: Confirmed cases have topped 118,000, deaths have surpassed 4,000 and Italy has quarantined 16 million people. It has led employers around the globe to encourage employees to work from home or take unpaid leaves of absence.
The spread of the virus could spur a change in behavior in health care.
In Seattle, the epicenter of Covid-19 cases and fatalities in the United States, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook and Google have instructed their employees to work from home. Immediate knock-on effects of Covid-19 include lower airline and hospitality revenue and, in turn, wages for people employed in those industries.
But the impact is far more pervasive. In the health care sector, we see continued reports of providers sending home clinical staff because of concerns about the spread of the virus. Many providers already do not have enough clinicians. They must take proper precautions to maintain the health of their staff so they may effectively treat their communities.
One trend we’re watching is if the virus is influencing behavior, including something as fundamental as visiting the doctor. For example, telehealth visits — or having a medical consultation online — in China increased significantly during the 2020 Lunar New Year compared to the prior year. The primary driver was concern about the virus.
As the coronavirus spread, telehealth visits increased in China …
We are watching for similar changes in the U.S. and for providers that leverage technology to help scale their Covid-19 responses.
The California Department of Insurance, for example, recently posted a bulletin that requires commercial health insurers to reduce cost-sharing to zero for all medically necessary screening and testing for Covid-19. The bulletin also encourages proactive use and education of telehealth solutions related to the virus.
Investors also think the virus may drive telehealth adoption. Teladoc, a leading provider of telehealth services in the U.S., has also had its share price increase nearly 60% year to date. The company has stated that approximately one third of the 1.25 billion ambulatory visits in the U.S. could be performed virtually, which amounts to nearly 420 million visits. In 2019, Teladoc completed 3.1 million visits.
Perhaps Covid-19 concerns will drive more patients to use virtual health for the first time. If true, we expect that many or most of those patients will continue to use such technology long after concerns about the virus dissipate. Such a shift in patient behavior could further change the health care landscape and create new opportunities for providers that embrace virtual care.