August 10, 2022

5 questions to ask about whether telehealth is right for your life sciences brand

By

Mike Goulart,

Director, Commercial Strategy

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has been a hot topic - for obvious reasons. And this isn’t just hype: telehealth is here to stay (WebMD).

  • In 2019, only 8% of Americans surveyed had ever participated in telehealth. But by the end of 2021, about one-third of Americans surveyed had experienced a virtual consultation with a clinician.
  • 76% of surveyed Americans who have used telehealth said they want to keep using it after the pandemic is over.
  • Nearly 63% of patients and almost 60% of doctors said they thought virtual visits were just as effective as in-person ones.

There are a lot of resources out there that address the pros and cons of telehealth, but they mostly focus on answering that question for clinicians. What about life sciences companies that are considering telehealth as a way to better serve healthcare consumers?

Here are 5 questions you should ask when considering telehealth for your brand.

#1. Is the therapeutic area conducive to being evaluated virtually?

This is, of course, the first and most important question to ask when considering whether offering a telehealth solution might be a good choice for your brand. If HCPs are likely to be able to get the type of information they need from patients via video and voice, then telehealth may be a potential option.

On the other hand, if HCP care for the therapeutic area would normally require hands-on actions such as taking blood pressure, measuring heart rate, or taking temperatures - just to name a few - then a virtual consult may not be a good fit.

Traditionally, examples of therapeutic areas that have been conducive to telehealth include certain visible skin conditions, mental or behavioral conditions, allergies, birth control, and IBS. This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch - and as technology continues to improve, this area is likely to become even more expansive. In addition, as hybrid care becomes more commonplace, it may even be possible that telehealth visits can be the kick-off to a model that includes an in-person visit with an HCP.

#2. Is your target population likely to have already been diagnosed with the relevant condition?

Even if your therapeutic area is not conducive to virtual diagnosis, it’s possible that you are frequently interacting with healthcare consumers who have already been diagnosed with a known condition. For example, for patients with symptoms or risk factors for heart disease or diabetes, a telehealth appointment likely isn’t the best route for diagnosis. But for those patients who have already been diagnosed, telehealth can play an important role in treatment. Treatment for many chronic conditions - not only heart disease and diabetes, but also asthma, obesity, and more - can often be facilitated via telehealth.

When offering telehealth in these cases, it’s important that HCPs are clear with patients about what they can expect from the visit. They must understand that the purpose isn’t diagnosis, and that they’re likely to be referred out if that’s what they’re looking for.

#3. How important is a longer-term relationship with the HCP likely to be?

There are a lot of significant benefits to offering consumers a telehealth option, such as ease of access and time savings. However, one of the disadvantages is that patients will be seeing an HCP they haven’t worked with in the past. Continuity of care is essential to some therapeutic areas, so if seeing a new provider is likely to have a negative impact - whether because the HCP lacks necessary in-depth medical history, because the patient is less likely to share openly, or some other reason entirely - then telehealth may not be a good fit for your brand.

For example, if your therapeutic area treats a rare medical condition, or a complex one like cancer, that requires patients to have a longer-term relationship with an existing HCP, telehealth may not make sense for your brand.

#4. Is mobility or scheduling likely to be a challenge?

One of the greatest benefits of telehealth is how easy it makes it for the patient to be seen by an HCP. There’s no need to worry about transportation, and scheduling becomes easier because there is no time required for either patient or clinician to physically go to a different location.

If patients in your therapeutic area are especially susceptible to complications around mobility, then telehealth might be worth considering. For example, if your therapeutic treats chronic pain, the physical activity required for attending an in-person appointment might be more strenuous for your patient population than the average population - and thus they might benefit even more than other patients when it comes to a telehealth option.

With respect to scheduling, if your therapeutic is designed for children, it’s possible that your patient population is going to have more inflexible schedules because of coordinating the time of the parent and the child on top of jobs and school. In any context where patient scheduling is a concern, telehealth may make sense to explore.

#5. What is the digital fluency of your target population?

Although it’s certainly the case that COVID-19 has increased the general population’s comfort level with digital technology for communication, it’s still important to consider the digital fluency of the patient population with which your brand interacts. Even though you may be used to Zoom meetings - not to mention Zoom weddings, Zoom bridal showers, and Zoom everythings - some patient populations may  still express hesitation or face other connectivity challenges that make telehealth less appealing.

In fact, WebMD reports that more than 40% of people on Medicare don't have access to a computer and a high-speed internet connection. The whole idea behind telehealth is the concept that technology can assist with clinical care. But if you’re working with a patient population that lacks widespread digital literacy or access, then telehealth might not be the best choice for your brand.

The bottom line

Deciding whether telehealth is right for your brand certainly isn’t as simple as doing some basic calculations and tallying up the answers - you have to consider a number of different factors related to your therapeutic area and the associated patient population. But these questions are a great starting point to begin the assessment.

Got questions about telehealth for life sciences? Drop us a line.