Health+Benefits the July/August 2021 issue

The Future State of Healthcare

Q&A with Eric Herbek, Vice President, Virtual Care, Evernorth
Sponsored by Cigna Posted on July 20, 2021

As patients continue to change the way they interact with the healthcare system, including their providers, a growing number of tech-based companies are reimagining care, meeting patients wherever they are, 24/7. Herbek discusses the digital healthcare ecosystem moving forward.

Tell us about the opportunity to build an alternative model of care-delivery in Cigna’s decision to acquire MDLIVE.

MDLIVE will be part of Evernorth’s new, differentiated and future-state care solutions that improve the patient experience, close the patient-provider accessibility gap, and offer new solutions for continuity of care.

We believe that virtual care can be used effectively to treat much more than strep throat or an ear infection. We see a future where diabetic patients and others with chronic and complex care needs can access comprehensive care online and where their providers are part of a connected network of care.

Bringing MDLIVE into Evernorth will enable a new end-to-end care experience that will meet the care needs of consumers looking for alternative access to care and complement care for consumers engaged with bricks and mortar providers. In both cases, our care delivery model can drive better health outcomes and more convenient access to care.

How does the integration of MDLIVE’s platform (1) increase patient access to care and (2) help drive down healthcare costs, which are reported to be growing by roughly 5% every year?

MDLIVE provides Evernorth with a platform to enhance and build next-generation care solutions, which will accelerate innovation in both access to care and affordability. We plan to address accessibility by offering a leading 24/7 solution that expands care delivery, including earlier identification and diagnosis of critical care needs, better medication management that improves safety and adherence, and coordinated behavioral services.

We also see this combination as an opportunity to drive down costs through more efficient referrals to high-quality providers, guidance to appropriate and affordable sites of service, and easier connections to affordable prescription fulfillment.

How will people combine virtual care/home care/and in-hospital or outpatient care as COVID-19 infections decrease and the country begins a new normal?

During COVID-19, we have seen significant shifts in how consumers expect to receive care and how providers deliver care—virtually, digitally and in the home.

We expect the virtual care trend to continue and accelerate further, beyond urgent care to primary, chronic and behavioral. For example, 60% of Cigna’s behavioral customers have continued using virtual care since the pandemic began; before the pandemic, 97% of those customers never had a virtual visit.

In addition, consumers are more comfortable using digital touchpoints along their current healthcare journey and plan to use them in the future. In fact, Americans expect the use of digital health options and virtual care to increase as the pandemic subsides and beyond, indicating these trends are here to stay. Over time, greater adoption of these technologies will make it easier to monitor and manage care in real time.

How do you see virtual care models evolving over the next five years?

COVID-19 has normalized virtual care and digital health solutions for millions of Americans, and emerging technological innovations will continue to reshape the end-to-end healthcare experience in the years to come.

Employers and customers have had a positive experience with virtual care, creating what we expect is a durable shift in care consumption behavior.

We see virtual care as an area of rapid innovation in the industry—pushing into new aspects of care and becoming a more essential ingredient in health plan benefit designs—resulting in the “win-win” of high-quality, cost-effective care that can be delivered to consumers in a simple and seamless way.

The cost of healthcare remains one of brokers’ biggest challenges. Tell us how telehealth and increased acceptance of digital technologies in general can help brokers help their clients contain these expenses.

Existing digital health products are projected to save $46 billion in U.S. healthcare spending if they’re deployed strategically and comprehensively, which is why harnessing digital innovation was a priority for benefits buyers in 2020 and will be in the future.

As customers and plan sponsors adapt to the increasing role of technology in healthcare, new solutions will accelerate the pace of change. Benefits decision-makers should continue to watch the virtual care space and evaluate opportunities to incorporate future technologies.

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