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A recent survey highlighting growing interest among large employers in the US to offer their employees telehealth services should be a wake-up call for contact center outsourcers looking to expand their reach in the American healthcare vertical. Emerging short-term demand for virtual healthcare consultations may exceed in-house capacity of providers, and outsourcers need to position themselves as the logical points of reference for clients interested in such deployments.

Telehealth services mean opportunity for CRM vendors

A recent survey completed by the National Business Group on Health (published in August 2015) indicates that large enterprises are more willing than ever to consider using remotely delivered healthcare consultation services. In fact, the study's findings show that in states where telehealth-delivered services are legal, the proportion of enterprises surveyed that plan to use this business model is set to increase from 48% in 2015 to 74% in 2016. This should be music to the ears of contact center outsourcers playing in the US market, many of which have long been seeking an entry point into the American healthcare vertical (and with good reason – according to Ovum's latest CRM Outsourcing Forecast: Major Markets in the Americas, 2014–20, it is anticipated that this vertical will grow approximately 9% annually over the coming five years, roughly double that of the overall US market).

The immediate question for outsourcers will be how best to tap into this expected demand for telehealth services. Voice is an obvious channel of entry, especially with a number of strong domestic and international deployments that use telephone interactions already serving as a reference; however, an emerging (and potentially more effective) solution is that of using video-based services. According to Ovum's 2015 CRM Outsourcing Business Trends Survey, the percentage of enterprises deploying video-chat as a channel was 25%; among healthcare firms, this figure was slightly higher. Being able to service employees via health professionals using secure video platforms and providing a more personalized level of interaction would be a competitive advantage for any outsourcing vendor willing to attack the healthcare space.

A logical question is how best to do this work. Anecdotal evidence suggests that finding healthcare professionals (be they general practitioners, nurses, dentists, or pharmacists) to work in a physical contact center environment is challenging, both in terms of recruitment and retention. A good solution for this problem is the use of home-based agents. Not only is this business model widely used in the US, but recruiting healthcare professionals may be more straightforward, especially if the roles are positioned as consultative ones that can be done on a flexible basis. The home-agent approach will also help vendors better position their telehealth offering from the standpoint of pricing, given that Ovum estimates virtualized agents have a discount of up to 10% relative to those working out of contact center facilities. But what is key for outsourcers is that they must move quickly to develop a reliable telehealth offering, so as not to be caught out by vendors that are faster to market.



Peter Ryan, Principal Analyst, IT Services

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