Virtual Healthcare Takes Center Stage In COVID-19 War

Telemedicine startups are seeing a sharp spike in business as COVID-19 hits the United States hard and healthcare services scramble to find alternatives to face-to-face communication. The number of virtual visits almost doubled for AI-powered platform provider 98point6 while virtual clinic AmWell saw a 40 percent jump in usage in recent weeks, and the trend will likely only climb higher.

After declaring a state of national state of emergency earlier this month, President Trump spoke about plans to increase access to online conferencing as a way to control the spread of COVID-19. While telehealth initiatives have been in play for decades, a JD Powers survey revealed that the vast majority of Americans either did not have access or were unaware of the technology. It wasn't until the novel coronavirus showed up on US shores that virtual healthcare started stealing headlines.

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Telemedicine has proven invaluable in the battle against the virus as health systems can communicate with people, triage patients, and medically treat them once they reach a diagnosis. This serves the dual purpose of preventing bottlenecks at critical points in healthcare delivery and controlling the spread of COVID-19. Patients are more likely to seek medical advice at the onset of illness when it's as easy as scheduling a virtual visit at a convenient time. Prescriptions can also be written during a video appointment and remotely sent to a pharmacy for filling.

To improve access to telehealth, President Trump introduced new legislation that vastly expanded coverage of telehealth services, ensuring that Americans in Medicare to speak with their medical provider either by phone or video chat with no additional costs attached. States like Florida and Massachusetts also expanded telehealth options so patients can connect online with their clinicians and ensures that physicians can bill for their services.

While health tech has seen significant investment growth in recent years, seizing a record-breaking $7.8 billion in funding from venture capital firms in 2019. Virtual health's share of that funding is far less impressive - these tech providers captured only 6 percent of that total over the last three years.

Despite the lack of funding, these firms are rising to the COVID-19 challenge and are working on several initiatives to help health systems cope with the pressure. 98point6 started developing tools in January and hiring more staff to accommodate growing demand. "I'm an emergency physician with a background in preparedness, so certainly I had on my mind what the potential surge impact could be to the business," said Bradley Younggren, chief medical officer with 98point6.

The CDC reported over 85,000 cases of COVID-19 within the United States and an upward trending contagion curve. The role of virtual health in the coming coronavirus future may make it one of the few winners in what many fear will be a prolonged economic slowdown...