TELEMED2U GROWS AMID RISE IN DEMAND FOR TELEHEALTH
When it was founded 13 years ago, TeleMed2U was ahead of the curve. The Roseville-based medical group is made up of specialists who've been offering virtual appointments since long before the concept of tele- health went mainstream.
It was "well before its time in terms of identifying the potential need to expand access to care," CEO AJ Patel said.
In the beginning, the compa- ny's primary clients were the state department of corrections - which used telehealth instead of having to transport inmates to receive care - and critical access hospitals in the most remote parts of the state, which don't tend to have a team of medical specialists on staff.
"Those two were really the foundational foot stones of the company's launch," Patel said.
Since then, there's been an explosion in interest in telehealth. When Patel joined the company in 2019, it had around 20 employ- ees. Today, it has around 120, as well as a network of more than 400 providers, 60 of whom are exclusive to the company.
The Covid-19 pandemic played a huge part in making patients and doctors more aware of, and amenable to, telehealth.
"Covid really changed the provid- er's mindset on feeling much more comfortable providing medical care in a virtual setting," Patel said.
It hasn't all been growth, however.
Initially, Patel said the pandem- ic was bad for business, as most of TeleMed2U's patients come from referrals from primary care doc- tors and inpatient settings, which dropped during the first months of the pandemic.
"Where we did see tailwinds around Covid was really in the behavioral health space," Patel said. "Behavioral health services transi- tioned to telehealth much faster than other speciality services."
The pandemic also saw an explosion in demand for behav- ioral health services. And with it came a surge of new tech com- panies offering virtual psychia- try and therapy appointments. According to Crunchbase, venture capital funding for teletherapy startups leapt from $418 million in 2018 to $1.23 billion in 2020.
For many of those startups, the decline has come just as quickly, with federal regulators launch- ing investigations into their pre- scription of controlled substances, and some, including Cerebral Inc., which was once valued at $4.8 bil- lion, announcing multiple rounds of layoffs.
Patel said many of those com- panies came out of the tech indus- try, fueled by venture capital fund- ing, instead of health care with a focus on patient care.
"They had commercials playing on national TV, they had magazine ads," Patel said.
He said that they also paid up when the salary structure for ther- apists went up 300% due to the demand. "They weren't built on a sustainable cost model," Patel said.
Instead of appealing directly to patients, TeleMed2U doctors are referred by the patient's prima- ry care provider, and they work together as part of the patient's care team.
"It's not a patient searching a Google ad," he said.
As the pandemic has subsided, TeleMed2U has continued to grow.
It has a new partnership with Blue Shield of California for spe- cialist health care services on the insurer's new "virtual-first❞ health insurer's new "virtual-first❞ health plan. The health plan, called Virtu- al Blue, launched in January, and allows patients to see a primary or specialty care doctor via a vir- tual appointment with no out-of- pocket costs.
Patel said insurance companies are increasingly seeking telehealth options.
"We've got a lot of different payer clients who didn't neces- sarily launch a product like Virtu- al Blue, but use us in a different sense," he said.
Patel said health plans are turning to telehealth to help solve accessibility challenges in getting specialty care.
"As they look at telehealth and the growing shortage of clini- cians nationally, it's all about tri- aging care to the best fit for that instance," Patel said.
The time it takes to get an appointment with a specialist can take weeks or months, Patel said, which can lead to greater health problems. For example, if a patient is having trouble controlling their diabetes, the longer it takes to see an endocrinologist, the more likely they are to face complications like vision loss or cardiovascular com- "As they look at telehealth and the growing shortage of clini- cians nationally, it's all about tri- aging care to the best fit for that instance," Patel said.
The time it takes to get an appointment with a specialist can take weeks or months, Patel said, which can lead to greater health problems. For example, if a patient is having trouble controlling their diabetes, the longer it takes to see an endocrinologist, the more likely they are to face complications like vision loss or cardiovascular com- plications that can lead to a much costlier emergency room visit.
"If you can take patients out of an emergency room that don't need to be in an emergency room, you can really lower the overall cost basis," Patel said. "But also improve the outcomes by provid- ing more timely care."