The continued climb of COVID-19 cases in recent months has brought about major societal adjustments and rising health concerns leading to a dramatic increase in virtual care users. As patients forego in-person healthcare visits to avoid the risk of getting sick and to prevent overcrowding the medical system, the use of virtual platforms to seek non-emergency healthcare has skyrocketed. It’s truly been an amazing thing to watch – how we have all had to adapt to this unpredictable and unwavering threat. At Blue KC, we were fortunate to have already been in the practice of offering access to doctors and therapists through our virtual care platform and app – Blue KC Virtual Care. To support all our members during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve made Blue KC Virtual Care available at no cost through the end of 2020. In addition, appropriate visits with our in-network Blue KC providers are also no cost through December 31, 2020.
As we see how quickly our providers and members picked up virtual care use, one thing has become very clear – virtual care is here to stay. Since we launched our Blue KC Virtual Care app in January of this year, Blue KC has seen upward of 4,500 virtual medical visits in the app alone. This isn’t taking into account all of our Blue KC network providers, as that number is closer to 50,000 visits. While Blue KC has offered virtual urgent care visits for a few years, the addition of behavioral health therapy has allowed us to bring services to our members when they need it from the privacy of their own homes. The initial data from our therapy visits is compelling. Similar to traditional, in-office patient-physician visits, many patients have built strong relationships with therapists available through virtual care and have continued their care while staying with the same providers. In fact, the top category of behavioral health visits are women and men with three or more visits.
With convenience at the forefront of this digitally driven movement, the industry saw an astounding 700 percent growth rate, practically overnight, and continues to seek ways to exceed the demands of its users.
Navigating the Challenges of Virtual Care
Interestingly, the data on the use of virtual care shows it has been most popular among individuals between the ages of 30-39, followed by 20-29 and 40-49. This counters the perception that only the younger generations would seek out and use virtual care options. In fact, our user data shows the use of telehealth services spans across every age group, and some of the most generous plan designs for 2021 are in our Medicare Advantage space.
That said, virtual care certainly isn’t without some growing pains. With an influx of new users in March, members experienced longer wait times. With the support of our virtual care partner, more than 3,000 new physicians joined online to help Blue KC members across the country and better meet the demand for these services. This influx of new, diverse providers helps expand our options for our patients so they can match with a provider that best suits their needs. Changes made at the State and Federal levels to allow state reciprocity with provider licensure and allowing more flexibility around no cost visits was a big driver in expediting both availability and affordability. We noticed that 9 a.m. until 12 p.m. is the most popular time for these appointments and have done our best to allow flexibility in the hours our providers and services are available. Even through all the exponential growth our virtual care app has maintained a 4.8/5-star rating.
We have already made improvements, from updating servers and enhancing platform operations to removing all costs barriers for Blue KC members through the end of the year. We know that as more members embrace this technology, we will continue to face challenges around access, cost, and what types of visits are appropriate for virtual care. Blue KC is committed to addressing these through innovative solutions that focus on flexibility, patient needs, and provider preferences.
Virtual Care: What Comes Next?
The future is bright and possibilities vast as we see people shift from the assumption that the insurance industry doesn’t know how to embrace technology. Work was underway prior to COVID-19 to progressively expanded our digital and virtual offerings. Through Blue KC Virtual Care we are constantly working to adopt the latest technology and introduce new, innovative ways to go beyond expectations and provide the best care possible. With this explosive growth of virtual care in the healthcare industry, Blue KC is exploring how to offer other virtual care, like specialty visits within Spira Care or your own primary care doctors office; plans that put virtual visits first and rely on tech for whole person care like wellness, therapy and 24/7 monitoring for chronic conditions. We are leaning in on virtual innovation in order to deliver a variety of digital solutions for modern problems.
Blue KC’s Virtual Care is an affordable, on-demand alternative to traditional urgent care or the emergency room, offering private and secure communications between yourself and physicians for a range of in-the-moment health concerns. For behavioral health visits you can schedule an appointment in as little as a few days for comprehensive help tackling life’s concerns – large or small. For more information, download the Blue KC Virtual Care app or visit BlueKCVirtualCare.com.