Virtual care’s balancing act

In recent months, several health systems have announced plans to expand virtual or urgent care services, often through new platforms designed to allow for seamless usage from mobile applications. For instance, Providence St. Joseph Health recently launched its Express Care Virtual platform in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and California, which allows patients to connect with physicians without a prior appointment for “common health issues.”

Out-of-pocket expenses for Express Care Virtual, which will accept most insurance plans, will not exceed $49. As health systems expand new virtual and urgent care services to build out their platforms and create “funnels” that continuously engage new and existing customers, the challenge will lie in finding the right balance between the level of services provided and competitive cost. Without that balance, providers run the risk of cannibalizing existing revenue streams too soon, or failing to keep up with nascent or potential platforms from well-resourced competition including Amazon, CVS Health, and Walmart.

Optum’s relentless march

For hospitals and health systems, United Healthcare often tops the list of things keeping senior leaders up at night, and with good reason. UnitedHealth members have access to more than 45,000 employed or contracted physicians, and Optum is currently working to tightly connect networks of clinics, surgery centers and urgent care centers in a city-by-city expansion, United Health President and Optum CEO Andrew Witty recently told Forbes.

“(We are) bringing together all of the elements of Optum in an ecosystem at the local level,” Witty said.

The company closed out 2019 with stronger-than-expected financial performance, while signaling aggressive plans for growth in 2020. In 2019, the company saw revenues rise 7% to $242 billion, with revenue from its Optum arm rising 25.6% to $30.3 billion. Looking ahead, the company plans to broaden its own funnel by enrolling 700,000 more people in its Medicare Advantage plans in 2020.

Is Peacock’s content its bird in the hand?

The recent launch of NBC’s Peacock service marks a shift in the ongoing competition between streaming platforms, traditional networks and cable bundles, with the legacy network’s hope that its vast library of content will allow it to catch on in an increasingly crowded market.

Interestingly enough, the service will be available for free for existing cable subscribers. NBC, which doesn’t expect to turn a profit on the service until 2024, still generates more revenue per user via its parent company Comcast’s cable business. If successful, the hedge could prove a response to the age-old quandary legacy companies face when borrowing from disruptors – how to successfully start a new enterprise without destroying its existing business model.

The one big advantage Peacock has, of course, is its library of established streaming favorites like “Friends” and “The Office,” which it previously licensed to Netflix. Judging by NBC’s conservative financial projections, the company’s instant content edge might not be enough to leap over more established platforms, at least in the short term.

Innovation at a glance



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Meet the Author
Haydn Bush

Haydn Bush

Vice President
Haydn Bush has two decades of experience as a journalist and communications professional in healthcare and related fields. He currently serves as VP of Thought Leadership.
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