Payers, Health IT, Telemedicine

Insurtech companies’ IT expertise give them competitive edge in telehealth & beyond

Insurance startups’ interest in telehealth is backed by both technical expertise and a focus on consumer experience. This will provide them a leg up not only in the competitive telehealth arena but also in consolidating other digital care services.

The race to capture the telehealth market is heating up, with several stakeholders jostling for a piece of the growing pie. Among them are insurance startups, which sit at the nexus of technology and health coverage and are in a prime position to succeed not only in the telehealth arena but beyond.

There are several reasons why payers are interested in telehealth, especially insurtech companies like Bright Health, which recently acquired virtual care provider Zipnosis, and Oscar Health, whose virtual primary care service launched this year. With the rise in popularity of virtual care services over the past year, payers see an opportunity to influence care delivery, and thereby, impact the cost of care, said Boris Kheyn, senior manager at Deloitte, in a phone interview.

Not only that, but consumer experience is also becoming an increasingly important market differentiator for these companies, and telehealth offers greater control over that experience. Insurtech companies have two key competitive advantages as they enter the telehealth arena, Kheyn said.

With their existing technology and expertise in the IT arena, they can more easily integrate telehealth capabilities into their platforms. They are also more attuned to consumer experience, as a core reason they sprang up in the market was to help consumers more easily navigate the complicated insurance market, he said.

The fact that their mindset is already consumer-oriented and technology-driven will stand insurtech companies in good stead as the market evolves toward the consolidation of digital care services.

“Any company that can provide a seamless interface for consumers will win the day,” said Ben Isgur, leader of PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Health Research Institute, in an email. “Everyone is looking for a one-stop shop for healthcare access. The frustration for consumers is multiple choices and entry points for care that are not well coordinated. This means big opportunity for a company that can better connect the dots.”

By adding telehealth services to their roster, insurance startups could attract other digital service companies, allowing them to connect those dots for members.

For example, a company like Lyra Health, which provides behavioral health services, may be more interested in partnering with a Bright Health now that it has acquired Zipnosis, Deloitte’s Kheyn said. This is because Lyra may be able to increase utilization of its digital programs if it is connected to Bright Health, which provides the insurance piece, and Zipnosis, which provides the virtual care piece. This also provides a single point of entry for patients to access multiple services.

“[Insurtech companies’] prior investments in digital and in [consumer] experience will allow them to navigate between these different solutions,” Kheyn said. “And the more interactions you have, the greater the… ability to influence the total cost of care.”

While the future for insurtech companies that integrate telehealth and other digital services is looking rosy, there is one advantage that providers specifically have that these companies will have to contend with — consumer loyalty.

What tech-enabled health plans are currently providing is on-demand services, and that is only serving one piece of the puzzle, Kheyn said. Providers, on the other hand, can use telemedicine for longitudinal care, allowing them to develop a relationship with patients over an entire episode of care.

But there is an opportunity for collaboration here. For example, providers could join forces with insurtech companies to provide virtual care through a contract or agreement, PwC’s Isgur said.

“[The] forward-looking health providers have the potential to expand their market share virtually and without the usual limits of bricks and mortar and geography,” he said.

As the rules of care delivery change, a host of new opportunities emerge for companies. Insurance startups have some clear advantages, but those that think more globally about the ways in which patients can be connected to the care that suits them best will likely capture a greater share of the market.

Photo: marchmeena29, Getty Images