UnitedHealth’s Optum To Broaden Telehealth Offerings In All 50 States
UnitedHealth Group’s Optum healthcare services unit has launched a virtual care business that is expanding telehealth across the U.S. with more specialized medical care providers and services.
UnitedHealth and Optum executives say they have already launched a product they are calling “Optum Virtual Care” that is live in all 50 U.S. states. The effort is “integrating physical care, virtual care, home care and behavioral care,” executives told analysts on a call with Wall Street analysts last week to discuss the company’s first quarter earnings and outlook for the remainder of 2021.
The move deeper into virtual care could have ramifications for smaller telehealth companies given the access to capital Optum has to expand and given UnitedHealth’s status as the nation’s largest health insurer and as a massive provider of medical care. Many of the telehealth startups that have thrived during the Covid-19 pandemic rely on round after round of private equity and venture capital and don’t have near the number of medical care providers in their networks as Optum has.
What’s more, Optum Virtual could have a huge leg up on smaller firms given Optum already has a relationship with the nation’s largest health insurer in UnitedHealthcare because they are owned by the same company. UnitedHealth is already putting together more health plans featuring Optum providers and that is only expected to continue.
“The feedback is really extraordinary in terms of how patients are seeing this, the benefit they feel from that and the ease with which they are able to engage with it,” UnitedHealth Group chief executive officer Andrew Witty, who was promoted in February to the company’s top job after leading Optum, told analysts on the call.
“I think Optum is in an extremely advantaged position being able to bring together this notion of integrated telehealth with physical and behavioral health,” Witty added. “And that’s going to be the path we go. And I think we are on the verge of kind of next generation of what this looks like versus what we have seen previously.”
Telehealth has exploded during the pandemic as consumers encountered a closed doctor’s office early on in the spring of last year when Covid-19 began its historic spread across the U.S. and have since been unable or unwilling to physically visit an outpatient medical care provider.
But telehealth has staying power beyond the pandemic, UnitedHealth and Optum executives believe, given consumer and patient familiarity with the service and it offers another opportunity for health insurers to make sure their customers are getting the care they need in the right place, at the right time and in the right amount.
“We stood up over 17,000 providers during the pandemic on telehealth solutions,” Wyatt Decker, chief executive of the company’s OptumHealth unit, told analysts last week. “But that really just is the beginning and of course across the country, we have seen a massive shift in consumer adoption and willingness to engage in virtual health solutions as well as with our providers more broadly. So our philosophy is that, not all telehealth is created equally and as we continue to develop our new products, you will see us integrating physical care, virtual care, home care and behavioral care in a way that is innovative and differentiated.”