Just When You Thought it was Safe to Go Back in the Water

A COVID-19 homage to a favorite summer blockbuster series—Jaws

An opinion piece by Brian Yarnell, as seen in the Journal of mHealth

Now that we’re in the swing of the summer movie season, I thought it would be fun to revisit a bit of Jaws nostalgia. Like Jaws, COVID-19 came out of the blue and caught the healthcare industry unaware. Vacations were ruined, knee replacements were postponed, and healthcare delivery was interrupted. The hero that emerged was scruffy, rough around the edges, and had been hanging around in the back of the room waiting for a chance to shine. No, not captain Quint. Telehealth.

By March of 2021, 61% of Americans had experienced a telehealth visit. According to McKinsey virtual visits are running 38x the level that they were pre-COIVD.  Prior to the COVID crisis, like Quint, telehealth was unappreciated, unpolished, and generally regarded as a nuisance. By the end of 2020, all that changed. Unlike Quint, who was devoured by a giant plastic shark, it was clear telehealth was here to stay in one form or another. In fact, according to McKinsey, around 40 percent of surveyed consumers stated that they believe they will continue to use telehealth going forward—up from 11% of consumers using telehealth prior to COVID-19.

Even though consumer acceptance of telehealth and virtual care was at an all-time high by the summer of 2021, there were still providers that believed things would go back to normal. They couldn’t have been more wrong…


Consumers demanded that care providers meet them on their terms. Even though providers were ready to get back to the office, consumers had tasted freedom and weren’t going back to traditional brick-and-mortar healthcare without a fight.


Virtual Care had proven its effectiveness for value-based care models. In a world where the old guard clung to fee-for-service payments models, a fresh idea had taken hold—comprehensive access to care to keep patients healthy and keep costs low.


The Delta variant struck. If the Delta variant has taught us anything, it’s that, like campy summer blockbusters, COVID is here to stay.

You’re Gonna Need a Better Boat

Quint famously said, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” Well, I’d counter that you’re gonna need a better boat. Telehealth is evolving fast, and while video-conferencing and one-to-one workflows might have had their place in a crisis, the future is virtual-first healthcare. As value-based care models continue to take hold, it’s critical to make access to healthcare pervasive and cost-effective to deliver.

Virtual-first healthcare is a better boat. Smart healthcare providers and payers are investing in infrastructure that seamlessly blends in-person healthcare with intelligent outreach and on-demand access to virtual care. The future is a world where the healthcare continuum extends beyond facility walls, offers the white-glove experience patients deserve, and- importantly- allows providers to deliver virtual care at a massive scale with extreme efficiency.

This time, it’s personal…

Final Jaws reference, I promise! The half-baked final installment of the Jaws franchise coined the famous tagline, “This time, it’s personal…”.  As you think about virtual care strategies, keep that tagline in mind. It’s critically important to meet patients where they are, how they expect to be engaged.

The COVID crisis will pass, but things will never go back to normal.  COVID has accelerated the adoption of virtual-first healthcare and this, in turn, will accelerate the growth of value-based care models, alternative healthcare options, and the fight for patient acquisition and loyalty. A one-sized-fits-all-approach is the fastest way to realize patient leakage to your competition— competition that isn’t just traditional hospitals anymore.

And speaking of alternative healthcare options, look twice before you get back in the water. Some of the services that are ready to throw you a telehealth lifeline might just be sharks circling…

By Brian Yarnell, co-founder and president, Bluestream Health

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