What Can Innovators Learn from Telemedicine’s Coronavirus Boom?


Innovators have hyped telemedicine for decades, but doctors and insurers didn’t adopt it. Then COVID-19 happened.

American Well’s visit volume is up 250%. Teladoc’s visit volume doubled to 20,000/day. Doctors who refused to try telemedicine 3 months ago are now converts. The COVID-19 crisis is a watershed moment for telemedicine – so, what can this crisis teach us about how to bring other innovations to market?

Before the coronavirus, telemedicine failed to realize its potential value because innovators couldn’t resolve barriers in its adoption chain. As Ron Adner describes in his book, The Wide Lens, every innovation needs to align its adoption chain – the series of ecosystem players and partners who need to adopt or adapt to an innovation to enable the end customer to realize its value.

One of telemedicine’s critical adoption chain barriers was doctors themselves. Many doctors resisted telemedicine because of the threat of change – both to how they delivered care and how much they got paid for it. The COVID-19 crisis removed the threat of change by removing the option of traditional care delivery. Doctors had no choice but to help patients remotely.

“I didn’t believe in telemedicine – I was anxious about not seeing or feeling enough of the patient to be able to help them. But with Coronavirus, I didn’t have a choice. It turns out you can help the patient by video, especially if you know them. It works quite well.” -General Practitioner

Value flow was also a significant adoption chain barrier for telemedicine. Insurers wanted telemedicine to reduce costs, and doctors didn’t want the savings to come out of their pockets. The COVID-19 crisis created a shared goal of providing contactless medical care, thus aligning two key players in the value chain. Private and public payers worldwide changed reimbursement policies, which helped drive a dramatic increase in adoption by doctors, hospitals, and insurers.

“The hardest part to crack with telemedicine was getting doctors to use it. With the coronavirus, we made cultural changes in our hospital in 5 days that would’ve taken 2 years otherwise… and that change is here to stay.” -Hospital Administrator

COVID-19's impact on adoption chains will last far longer than the crisis itself, and telemedicine isn’t the only innovation being impacted. Crisis or not, innovators can position themselves for adoption chain success with these 4 steps:

  1. Map your adoption chain – What steps are involved from releasing your new offer, to reaching customers, to end users getting value from your innovation?

  2. Understand the players – Who is involved in the key steps? What do you need them to do?

  3. Identify potential barriers - Which players could become barriers in your adoption chain? What are their needs and motivations?

  4. Mitigate barriers – How can you create shared goals or distribute value differently to align stakeholders and remove adoption chain barriers?

Aaron Leopold

Read More Articles in our COVID-19 Series

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