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Telehealth Providers Get Creative to Attract Virtual Care Traffic

With cold and flu season on the horizon, telehealth providers are looking for help to drive traffic to their direct-to-consumer virtual care platforms.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- One direct-to-consumer telehealth provider is using a new tactic to build business ahead of the busy cold and flu season.

Doctor On Demand has launched a partnership with Walmart and consumer health company RB to offer a voucher for a free virtual care visit for consumers who purchase certain cough and cold products at a Walmart or on the company’s website. The limited-time offer through DOD’s mHealth app enables consumers to access care for cold or flu-like symptoms rather than visiting the hospital or doctor’s office.

It’s also designed to give the telehealth company an edge in the increasingly competitive DTC telehealth market, and drive consumers to try virtual care at a time when adoption is still low.

“Partnering with RB and Walmart is a big step in moving the telemedicine industry forward, and ensuring that consumers are aware they can see a physician and receive high-quality care anywhere, at any time,” Hill Ferguson, DOD’s CEO, said in a press release. “At Doctor On Demand, our physicians can treat 90 percent of the most common medical issues seen in the ER and urgent care, including cold and flu, skin and eye issues, allergies, back pain, and more. We're proud to be driving innovative solutions that put patients first and improve access to care this cold and flu season and beyond.”

“This initiative is a big first step in delivering on RB and Walmart's shared purpose of unlocking every American's right to healthier lives,” Gregory Chabidon, Chief Medical Officer for RB’s Health Unit, said in the release. “We found through research that many Walmart shoppers are looking for new ways to take health matters into their own hands. However, despite consumers' desire to take more control of their health, the path isn't always clear, and access to fast, reliable and affordable healthcare solutions remains a cause of stress.”

Spurred by the prospect of competing with Amazon as well as retail urgent care clinics for healthcare business, telehealth providers and health systems are launching DTC platforms for non-urgent care and forging partnerships to put telehealth platforms, including kiosks, mHealth apps and in-store clinics, in retail locations. Their goal is to become the go-to-resource for quick and convenience care.

“Patients want this,” Joseph Brennan, senior director of telehealth for Michigan’s Spectrum Health system, told mHealthIntelligence in January after the health system launched its MedNow DTC service. “Patients see the convenience, the choice, the access to care on their own terms, and this is what they want. This is the future of healthcare.”

Providers and payers also see these services as a means of easing traffic at overcrowded hospital EDs – especially during cold and flu season – and improving physician workloads. Anthem, for example, has launched a controversial policy of screening ER visits in some states, with the hope that reduced reimbursements for non-essential visits would prompt its members to seek care via telehealth or mHealth.

“Some of our members are using the emergency room (ER) for things like head lice or sprained ankles, for convenience rather than for serious or life-threatening issues,” Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas officials said in a letter sent in May to announce the new policy. “Doing so not only drives up costs for our members, but uses limited ER resources for conditions that are not serious or life threatening. We want to make healthcare affordable for our members, and to do so, we have to be good stewards of their money.”

In launching its new promotion, DOD offered these statistics:

  • It takes an average of 18 days to schedule a visit with a doctor;
  • It can take up to three hours to complete that visit, from the time one leaves the office or home to when that person returns;
  • 30 percent of adults don’t have a primary care physician; and
  • The average cost for a visit is $150.

Executives are also quick to point out the promotion is meant to target cold and flu season. The coupons for a few telehealth visit are available only through the purchase of Mucinex, Delsym, Airborne or Digestive Advantage.

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