Forrester's 2021 Prediction: Watch Out In-Person Care, the Telehealth Surge Will Continue


"Primary care as we know it today stands in the crosshairs, with new entrants vying for the hearts of consumers," says Forrester Research report. Telehealth and retail health clinics are among the suitors.

As consumers avoid hospitals and doctor’s offices because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s propelling demand for virtual care and in-home care. The trend is predicted to grow in 2021, according to Forrester Research.

The decrease in hospital utilization is expected to cost health systems $350 billion this year, and consumers will instead demand more hospital-level care at home, Forrester said in its “Predictions 2021:Healthcare” report released Tuesday.

Emergency department visits have dropped 42%, outpatient visits have declined 35%, and in-patient care is down 22%, according to Forrester.In response, hospitals will likely turn to offering more care at home, which can make hospital care more affordable and reduce readmission rates, according to the research firm.

People are skipping primary care visits because COVID-19, the report says, trading traditional doctor’s offices for new care models such as virtual visits and health clinics inside retailers. That means health insurers need to expand coverage for these alternative models, according to the Forrester report.

“Primary care as we know it today stands in the crosshairs, with new entrants vying for the hearts of consumers who legacy healthcare ignored for too long,” said a company blog post summarizing the report.

The big beneficiary from the COVID-19 pandemic has been telehealth as virtual visits have soared, particularly those for behavioral health. Forrester expects consumers to make around 480 million virtual visits in 2020 with almost 38% for mental health care as concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic and job instability it drive demand for behavioral health services. For those who seek behavioral healthcare, “consumers face a litany of barriers to care, including in-network coverage, provider availability, and the cost of care. Health insurers must make it easy for consumers to get connected to the mental health support they need in the form they want,” Forrester writes.

While in-person healthcare is expected to gradually increase, telehealth will still account for 440 million visits in 2021.

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