Providers and Patients Embrace Telemedicine

Prior to the global pandemic, few patients saw their doctors via video links. Since states implemented shelter-in-place orders in response to COVID-19, telemedicine vendors such as Teledoc have seen dramatic, and broad-based increases in demand. Teledoc, for example, reported a 125% increase in new registrations and a 90% year-on-year increase in visit volume. This increase was even higher for specialty care. Existing and temporary CMS codes for telemedicine services, along with the Department of Health and Human Services’ relaxation of penalties for HIPAA non-compliance for telemedicine, have stimulated other providers to quickly establish patient telehealth portals.

Implications for Biopharmaceutical Companies

Telemedicine is unlikely to replace in-person healthcare in the near term, but the COVID-19 pandemic is fueling its growth from a minor niche to an important vehicle for patient care. As social distancing rules relax, a growing subset of patients will continue to use telemedicine for its convenience and privacy. For these patients, telemedicine will change the diagnostic process and ongoing care management and result in significantly different care journeys. Biopharmaceutical companies need to be alert to several differences between telemedicine and in-office medicine, such as patients’ access to information—for example, their access to copay assistance programs—and to drug samples, as well as representatives’ access to prescribers for promotional purposes. Consumers, health plans, providers and hospital systems are all embracing virtual-based care. New channels and technologies are emerging to expand the range of services that telemedicine offers and payers are beginning to incorporate telemedicine into care guidelines. In the post-COVID-19 prescription drug landscape, biopharmaceutical companies will need to know which types of patients use telehealth, how they use it and how to engage healthcare providers who deliver care through this vehicle.