Virtual healthcare is booming — what comes next?

AXA Next Lab US recently hosted their 10th Insurtech meetup — a milestone anniversary! For the first time, they welcomed guests from all over the world (France, UK, Germany, US, and more) for their first virtual event, garnering over 100 registrations. These gatherings support the ongoing ambition of AXA Next to accelerate innovation, engage with our community, facilitate new business opportunities, as well as drive the dialogue forward on important topics that are shaping and transforming the insurance landscape. For its 10th edition, panel speakers featured Eran Orr (Founder and CEO of XRHealth), Chris Kenney (US Health Systems Lead at Zipline), moderated by Neda Amidi (Partner, Health at Plug and Play) to explore the future of virtual healthcare.

Current state of virtual care

Over the last several months, there has been an unprecedented surge in demand for telehealth services amid our current global health crisis. Leading telemedicine providers such as Teladoc have seen a massive uptick in online consultations, reporting their total visits were up 92% during the first three months of 2020, which resulted in a 41% jump in its 2020 first-quarter revenue. Zipline’s partners in Health have seen a couple hundredfold increase in virtual visits, while XRHealth reported an influx of over 500 clinicians joining the platform — the startup reached the projections they anticipated for the year in less than two months. All of a sudden, virtual care is booming and telehealth is now not just a convenience, but a necessity.

So, what comes next? Now that widespread adoption and infrastructure is increasingly established, what does the next phase of virtual healthcare look like?

Today, advances in innovative digital healthcare technologies are rapidly accelerating in areas such as artificial intelligence, wearables & biometric sensors, digital therapeutics, robotics, and more. From the delivery of critical and lifesaving medical supplies to patients via drones, to virtual reality to treat chronic pain, it’s clear that dynamic applications of technology are well underway in the healthcare industry and may soon become the standard of the US health infrastructure. Our panel featured some of the leaders pioneering these innovations and they were happy to share their perspective on the market, what the virtual healthcare of tomorrow looks like, how these technologies will redefine how care is delivered, and more!

Virtual health care in the era of COVID-19

Similar to most companies during this time, both Zipline and XRHealth had to reevaluate current strategies and pivot to adjust to the new era of COVID-19. For XRHealth, Orr noted that they scrambled to implement aggressive change in infrastructure training, redesign the patient experience, and make changes to product offerings to meet new virtual use cases. Kenney shared similar sentiments on the pace of change and noted the huge acceleration of pre-existing trends in recent months, as well as widespread adoption by both patients and providers that otherwise may have taken a decade to achieve under novel conditions.

In regards to the rate of telehealth adoption, Orr says it is largely correlated with the local government policy. For example, XRHealth operates in three markets (Israel, Australia, and the US) — the US was the first to waive costs for telehealth with Medicare and private insurance, with Australia following suit with similar policies weeks later — this immediately opened up both markets for them. Israel however, has not created such policies and patients are still required to come out of pocket for these services — the rate of adoption in this geography has been slower as a result.

via XRHealth

Kenney noted that adoption of Zipline’s technology has been the inverse — international regulators had been more willing to move much quicker in letting drones service in their cities to fly therapy products to other hospitals for example. In contrast, the US has many regulations set in place when it comes to the widespread deployment of drones and adoption has been slower here. Due to COVID-19, Zipline’s work with US health systems has accelerated the timeline for the widespread deployment of drones in the country — recently, Zipline completed the longest delivery by drone in US history to deliver critical medical supplies and PPE (personal protective equipment) to Novant Health Medical Center — a unique application of tech and partnerships to help in the fight against COVID-19. “We’re likely in for a long-term fight against COVID-19,” Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said in a recent statement. “Using contactless drone logistics will be an important tool in that effort. The work underway here will provide the rest of the country with a blueprint for how to build the most resilient and responsive health care system possible.”

via Zipline

Challenges and opportunities

Payers will be the ones driving change in healthcare moving forward — because at the end of the day, economics drive the entire healthcare system. I think we need more payers that understand and are willing to take the risk with startups, more delivery methods, and new technologies — because that’s the way we’ll be able to improve outcomes, reduce costs, and quantify things that were largely impossible until now,” said Orr on the role insurers have in driving innovation in healthcare. He hopes that by partnering with payers, XRHealth can prove the value in using new technologies and believes insurers have the most important role to play in jumpstarting innovation and implementing new technologies in the healthcare space.

Both speakers went on to share their company’s efforts in building a virtual healthcare system that is representative, accessible and equitable across diverse populations, demographics and geographies. For Zipline, this closely aligns with their mission and what the company was founded to do — provide every human with instant access to biomedical supplies. They see an ability to remove many of the barriers to care that exist today and deliver medical products anywhere needed. For example, 32% of Chicago (pop. of 1M) live in a “pharmacy desert.” By having a system that doesn’t rely on any brick and mortars, anyone can essentially have the benefits of a pharmacy within reach, without needing any form of transportation. “Especially with virtual healthcare, it does require investment and prioritization on the part of US stakeholders,” said Kenney. “Many of us have seen through COVID that adoption of virtual health is up, adoption of remote learning is up, but not where people don’t have access to broadband or infrastructure to enable that — we think it needs be a priority of everyone to help close this gap.”

For XRHealth, their efforts are done both internally and externally. “As an immigrant, I believe diversity is a very powerful thing,” said Orr on the importance the company places on hiring talent across the board. “Externally, our job as a healthcare providers is to make sure everyone has access to our services, no matter where you are or where you came from. It should be affordable, accessible and address all age groups, races, genders — that’s across the board from product design to emboldening, to messaging — not an easy task,” said Orr.

Future of virtual care

Technology innovations are redefining how care is delivered and shaping the virtual healthcare of tomorrow. A prime example is the partnership between Zipline and Novant Health, which leverages Zipline’s cutting edge technology to enhance how care is delivered to Novant’s patients. This new collaboration is pioneering advancements in the healthcare industry which has been known for being resistant to change ­– and may very well prove to be a game-changer in areas such as testing, drug trials, and vaccine distribution, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold. “Providers that have built an infrastructure and have the pipeline in place can respond much quicker as things change — they’re looking at drone delivery the same way,” said Kenney. In terms of what the future of drone delivery looks like, Kenney believes vaccine delivery will definitely be an area of demand and drones will play a key part in getting products where they need to be, when they need to be there. Beyond healthcare, he believes we are just a few years away from drones becoming the standard for parcel delivery, especially in suburb or rural areas.

via Zipline

XRHealth sees a lot of opportunity for VR in the future of healthcare, especially in the era of COVID-19. “There’s no doubt telehealth has proven to be a powerful tool and we can replace a lot of in-person visits with telehealth sequences — the problem is that we live in a 3D world and we are trying to provide treatment in a 2D interface, and it has many limitations. At the end of the day, because we are living in a 3D world, we need to treat people in a 3D world,” said Orr. “I have no doubt that VR and AR will be the telehealth delivery method in a matter of years.”

One game-changing use case for example is when someone puts a VR headset on, the patient becomes the only variable in a computer generated environment — that allows XRHealth to capture and analyze the patient performance better than any other device or sensor because with other sensors, you are missing context (e.g. you don’t know what caused that result or that measurement to occur). In addition, they are able to manipulate the entire environment and see how the patient interacts as it changes to start quantifying outcomes and data in a way that until now was very difficult to quantify with the types of elements you can only do in a 3D environment.

There is also the potential for the VR treatment to harness the power of mind to treat the body which they have seen particularly effective in pain management. “VR can be as powerful as drugs for pain management and in some cases even better — it could even be game-changer for the opioid addiction problem in US if we know how to deliver it in the right way,” noted Orr.

via XRHealth

To close, the panelists each shared one piece of advice to entrepreneurs:

· “Focus on value, value, value. If you don’t start with showing that value and really convince people that what you’re offering is something that can really drive their business, it’ll be really difficult to get to that next step.” — Chris Kenney

· Fail, fast. Go out, do something, get your punches, understand what happened, iterate, fail again — for me, that’s what the most import thing is. I think speed and the attempt to do something is more important than anything else.” — Eran Orr

Looking forward, both Orr and Kenney believe virtual care is here to stay and is poised to reshape how care is delivered in the years to come. A recent estimate by McKinsey suggests that $250 billion in healthcare spending could shift to virtual care models in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — signaling a significant shift in the future of care delivery. “COVID allowed us to show the potential and open up the doors. We don’t need to convince people of the necessity anymore,” said Orr. The one good thing that COVID brought to the table is that it opens peoples mind to other solutions — that won’t change post-COVID.” Echoing these sentiments, Kenny expressed his overall excitement about the possibilities for what can be done with the new acceptance of technologies that can be used to optimize healthcare. As the global pandemic continues to bring the value of virtual care to the forefront, it is also making a lasting change to consumer behaviors and will significantly impact the way patients seek and receive care moving forward. Exciting things to come!