Are CFOs misreading the market on telehealth?

The pandemic made remote care a crucial need, and healthcare CFOs adjusted their organizations' investments accordingly — but now patient sentiment toward remote care appears to be diverging from CFO investment trends in telehealth, according to the "2023 BDO Healthcare CFO Outlook Survey." 

Patients are beginning to return to strictly in-person care over virtual and hybrid settings, the report said. CFOs are still boosting their organizations' investments in telehealth platforms, however.

At a time when margins are increasingly tight, that could be a misread of the market, the report said.

National telehealth utilization dropped by 3.7 percent in October, according to Fair Health's Monthly Telehealth Regional Tracker. The declines in the South (6.8 percent), Midwest (4.9 percent) and West (4.1 percent) were all larger than the national average.

Seemingly in line with that trend, some telehealth companies have announced layoffs recently.

Wheel laid off 28 percent of its workforce in January after letting go of 17 percent of its staff in September, while Teladoc in January laid off 6 percent of its nonclinical staff, or about 300 workers. Epic-affiliated cloud telehealth company Twilio said it laid off 11 percent of its staff in September.

Twenty-four percent of healthcare CFOs said their digital investments had the largest effect on patient access and experience, making it the top-cited impact in 2023, the report said. But despite 87 percent of patients who have used patient portals saying they were helpful, many healthcare CFOs are pulling back on digital front door and patient portal investments.

Only 19 percent of healthcare CFOs reported high satisfaction with their EHR systems, the report said. CFOs are decreasing their investments in EHR optimization, however, instead of investing in improving their systems.

In 2022, 53 percent of CFOs said they would pursue digital transformation, the report said. In 2023, only 34 percent said the same.

But while direct investment in digital platforms is on the decline, mergers and acquisitions is increasingly looked to as the vehicle for healthcare organizations to bolster their digital presence, the report said. 

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