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The Importance of “Soft” Value in Virtual Care ROI

Measuring return on investment – whether that comes from realized cost savings, direct revenue or long-term revenue – is important when building a business case for virtual care. If you want to get into that, we’ve got plenty of material for you (here, here and here).

A lot of time is spent discussing hard numbers with customers, so it’s easy to lose track of the softer side of ROI – what’s known as “blue sky” or “soft” value. While more difficult to measure and quantify, the softer side of ROI is just as important for organizational success. Soft value includes things like market perception, brand reputation, employee engagement and customer (or patient, in this case) satisfaction.

Virtual Care and Soft Value

So, what does that have to do with virtual care? A lot. Virtual care is a key component in strategies that impact those less measurable, but still incredibly important, value drivers, including brand positioning, provider satisfaction, and patient satisfaction and experience.

Brand Position

When I’m speaking with customers, they often tell us that how their brand is perceived in the marketplace is of enormous importance to them. A well-publicized virtual care offering can help healthcare organizations position themselves as patient-friendly, convenience-focused, and technologically savvy. With a recent survey of patients finding that more than half of millennials would choose a provider who offers virtual care over one who does not, the brand impact of a virtual care solution can be the difference between patient acquisition and patient attrition.

Provider Satisfaction

In a world where provider burnout is front and center, finding ways to maximize provider satisfaction is critical. Providers remain skeptical about virtual care and adoption is slow—just 18% of physicians are interested in adding virtual visits to their practice, according to a recent Deloitte survey. However, patients are increasingly interested in virtual visits, with 57% indicating interest in online doctor visits, according to the same survey. Finding virtual tools to facilitate patient care that don’t add to providers’ workloads is critical. Virtual care, specifically store-and-forward or asynchronous modes of care, can lighten providers’ workloads while still enabling them to care for more patients. At Zipnosis, we’ve seen customers with provider satisfaction rates as high as 100% (top 3 box on a scale of 1-10).

“Zipnosis allows me to provide excellent treatment for patients with low-acuity health issues that can safely be managed without an in-person provider visit.”

-Virtual Care Provider

Patient Satisfaction and Experience

Spoiler Alert: In our soon-to-be-released On-Demand Virtual Care Survey Report, our team found that patient satisfaction was the most selected success metric across all respondents. Moreover, looking at the virtual care program goals, patient experience and satisfaction were the most selected reasons for launching a virtual care service. By launching virtual care health systems are demonstrating commitment to making healthcare work for their patients, instead of making patients work to get healthcare. This is vital in enhancing patients’ experience with the health system and their overall satisfaction.

Maximizing Value from Virtual Care

One of the things we tell customers is that their virtual care service is only as good as the marketing behind it. Realizing the benefits of soft value – as with hard ROI – means spreading the word about virtual care, with the greatest success coming to health systems that combine seasonal marketing campaigns with providers recommending the service to their patients in-clinic.

After all, it’s impossible for patients to experience the convenience and satisfaction of a virtual encounter if they don’t know it’s available. Your health system’s brand won’t be known as an innovative leader in care delivery if the marketplace isn’t aware of the innovative services on offer. And, your physicians, NPs and PAs won’t find satisfaction with a platform that their patients aren’t using.

Soft value is a real, if less tangible, benefit of launching virtual care. Health systems that want to build their brand, enhance patient experience, and support provide satisfaction would be wise to consider adding virtual care or leveraging their existing service to meet their goals.

How to Grow Market Share with Virtual Care

This past week, I was at the American Telemedicine Association’s annual conference, and one of the things I heard over and over was the growing need for health systems and providers to offer virtual care. But health systems are often in a difficult position when it comes to technology investments like virtual care. They need, not only to prove it aligns with their mission and organizational objectives, but that it makes financial sense.

Healthcare organizations are increasingly being asked to do more with less—to think as businesses with an aim to expand and grow revenues. In fact, non-profit health systems are often caught between their business needs, the aims of their missions, and of course, delivering high quality care to diverse patient populations. The great news is that virtual care can help bridge that gap, supporting health systems in expanding access to care, both by increasing convenience and lowering costs while aiding in expansion and growth.

The Business Case for Virtual Care

When I say that building a business case is less clear that doesn’t mean it is difficult, more that, because the technology is relatively new and evolving, health systems sometimes find it challenging to pin down how they want virtual care to impact their business. While expanding access and enhancing patient experience are mission-driven goals, they also can create impacts on the bottom line. Other facets of virtual care, like increased clinical efficiency can bring a positive impact to the bottom line, particularly for populations where the health system owns a portion of their risk (e.g., self-insured employees or other owned health plans). But the real winner in building a business case has to do with gaining market share.

Virtual Care Meets Market Share

We recently published a study with MultiCare Health System in Washington that demonstrated the patient acquisition potential of offering a virtual care service to the marketplace. Through the study, we found that 34% of virtual care users who had not received care from MultiCare in the 24 months preceding their virtual visit sought in-person care in the 12 months after their virtual care experience – more than 3 times that of a control group.

So, how do you set patient acquisition goals relative to your market? Start by figuring out how much of the market you currently have—your market share.

What’s Your Market Share?Grabbing a piece of the market share pie

To calculate market share, try this for a nice-round-numbers approach. You, or someone at your organization, probably have a relatively good handle on how many patients you treat per year, on average. Divide that by your approximate market size, which you can find this with a quick Google search.

Setting Market Share Goals

The 34% patient conversion rate MultiCare achieved is tied to the closely circumscribed study cohort, imagine what that could look like relative to a major metropolitan market. For example, imagine you have 12% of a market of 3 million – that’s a nice size patient panel of 360,000. But, what could increasing your market share just 1% do? Before you pull out your calculators, I’ll tell you that it would add 26,400 patients to your health system—or 1% of your market potential.

Market Potential

market potential equation

Once you know your current market share, set attainable goals. Start with an aim of increasing your market share .25%. Using our hypothetical scenario above, that translates to 6,600 new patients.

Working with the 34% conversion rate, how many virtual visits would you need to achieve that .25% increase? Once again, I’ll do the math for you. You would need just over 19,000 new patients to come through your virtual care service to gain your 6,600 new patients and .25% market share increase.

That may sound like a lot, but there are budget sensitive strategies to increase growth and virtual visit volume that can help you achieve your market share and patient acquisition goals.

Accelerating Growth

From my perspective, one of the most interesting findings of our study with MultiCare is not the patient conversion rate but the market opportunity. The independent analytics firm who compiled and analyzed the study data found that understanding the demographics of patients who were likely to use virtual care meant that targeting just 20% of the market would yield 82% of the people most likely to use virtual care. That means highly focused, targeted marketing efforts could significantly increase virtual care utilization.

It’s exciting to hear from various health system customers about how they are leveraging virtual care to reach new patients and broaden access to care. Several of our health system partners are unlocking market potential by contracting with local health plans and employers to offer virtual care to their members and employees. Combined with targeted marketing, this approach can help accelerate your health system growth and put you well on your way to achieving your objectives.