Telehealth will never replace in-person care — it’s important for healthcare industry stakeholders to understand that virtual care is only useful in certain contexts, according to Zokdok Founder and CEO Oliver Karaz.
“Some people say the virtual has already arrived, but that’s because they imagined the virtual would do to take care of themselves what the car did to the horse-drawn cart.” And I think that was never a realistic assumption,” he said during an interview last week in HLTH c Las Vegas.
For Kharraz, it’s helpful to think of telehealth as an e-scooter. When these vehicles started showing up in American cities, you had to get used to it. But now many urban dwellers appreciate them and recognize that they are useful in certain circumstances.
E-scooters have by no means replaced cars, but they are certainly suitable for some short trips. For example, you wouldn’t use an e-scooter to get to the airport, but you might use it to visit a friend who lives a mile away. Likewise, you wouldn’t use telehealth to get a colonoscopy, but you could use it for a follow-up visit with your gastroenterologist.
“If you approach it with that mindset, I think telehealth is pretty quickly becoming what it needs to be,” Karaz said. “But it’s one tool in a toolbox that has many, many tools. I think we just have to have realistic expectations and we won’t be disappointed.”
This “one tool in the toolbox” mindset is something that patients agree with, according to Zocdoc Research. A full 77% of patients agree with the statement, “I believe I will use a combination of telehealth and in-person care in the future,” and 83% of providers agree that most care will include a combination of telehealth and in-person visits in the future. This data comes from a survey conducted in May that collected responses from more than 400 patients and approximately 200 providers.
And patients “seem to appreciate the telehealth option, even though they don’t actually choose telehealth very often,” Karaz pointed out.
A provider who offers in-person care as well as virtual visits is 40 percent more likely to be chosen by a patient than a provider who only offers in-person appointments, he said. This trend holds true on the flip side—a provider that offers both options is twice as likely to be chosen by patients as a provider that only offers telehealth.
As for what type of meetings lend themselves best to virtual modalities, Kharraz thinks mental health and follow-up visits are the obvious answers.
“It usually comes back to something between the mind and the body,” he said. “If he talks, it’s good. Mental health visits are good. And follow-up visits are fine because they talk, but for an initial consultation, patients realize it’s like being offered telepizza. Actually there is no such thing because you have to be in the same room to taste it, smell it and eat it. They think about medicine in much the same way.
From Kharraz’s point of view, he thinks telehealth will “consume” all mental health care “very soon,” with “a very small remnant” of in-person visits.
Zocdoc data supports this thesis. In May 2020, 74% of mental health examinations were performed virtually. The following May, that percentage rose to 85%, and in May 2022, it rose to 87%.
“To be honest, I think the telehealth revolution in mental health has really improved access a lot for the average consumer. I think it’s really an incredible blessing,” Kharraz said.
Photo: venimo, Getty Images