“I just texted my doctor,” I said. “She got me the prescription an hour later.”
“You did not,” my dad replied, disbelievingly.
I had to laugh. It’s cold and flu season where I am. I got hit, but with COVID-19 still raging, I had to test negative before my doctor believed it was a cold.
As soon as my results came back, NEGATIVE in all caps, I sent her a quick text. And we were on a video call.
My dad marveled at this when we caught up over the phone.
When he was my age, the internet was only a glimmer in some engineer’s eye, and no one had even dreamed of a smartphone, much less skipping the line at the doctor’s office by hopping on a video call.
But today, equipped with Wi-Fi and a front-facing camera, my phone is all I need to get a checkup with my doc.
And I’m not the only one. “Telehealth” usage has surged. One hospital system in New York says its virtual visits have shot up tenfold.
So, as smart investors, we should be asking ourselves: Will this new trend stick around after the pandemic is done?
The answer is yes (in fact, we have two ways to profit today).
And the last round of COVID-19 economic relief hints at how this could be such a long-term trend…
How Telehealth Got Here
The technology for virtual doctor’s visits has actually been around for decades. About 57 years ago, the University of Nebraska was able to link with a state hospital to perform video consultations.
Of course, it couldn’t gain traction until recently.
Apple’s FaceTime app, a revolutionary software that used a selfie camera on the iPhone and iPad, was rolled out nearly 10 years ago. Suddenly, everyday users could make video calls between Apple devices.
Many other smartphones and tablets adopted similar features soon after. Today, nearly every new laptop has a front-facing camera and mic.
And according to AARP, nearly 80% of American adults over age 50 now own a smartphone. I know my parents and grandparents do.
All of that’s why telehealth visits were on the rise before COVID-19 struck. According to a survey from Sage Growth Partners and Black Book Market Research, nearly 25% of respondents had used telehealth services before the pandemic.
But now, with a virus raging across the globe, hospitals and family doctor’s offices are leveraging the widespread technology at their fingertips. And it’s creating a new normal.
They’re using phone calls and video chats to hold virtual visits and renew prescriptions.
And it’s not just the tech-savvy youth who are taking advantage.
According to health care publication Health Leaders: Nearly 20% of all visits for patients over age 50 were remote from March to July 2020.
And as they say, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.
This trend will stick around for two big reasons…
Why Patients Won’t Go Back
It all comes down to convenience and better access.
Sure, some visits will always require in-person care.
But if you’re like me and all you need is for your doctor to confirm your symptoms and decide on your prescriptions, you certainly don’t need to go in person. You don’t need to carve out an hour or two, drive to an office and sit in a cold, crowded waiting room. You don’t need to put yourself at risk for seasonal viruses.
That convenience is a huge driver. And where patients go, insurers will follow.
Sure, most insurers, including Medicare and Medicaid, don’t cover virtual visits the same as in-person ones. Some insurers don’t cover these visits at all.
But pandemic legislation put extra fees for virtual visits on hold.
And this shift will keep putting pressure on insurance companies and government regulators to widen everyday access to telehealth.
Even more telling, the last round of COVID-19 economic relief — the CARES Act — included provisions to expand broadband access into rural areas. States are using these funds to push internet service into places it has never been before.
That’s big. According to AARP, nearly 51% of seniors are investing in technology in their own lives. Their top purchases in 2019 were things like smart phones and new laptops.
Once internet access is more widespread, even more seniors and rural residents will adopt these technologies — paving the way for further virtual visits.
So, this industry is full of investment potential, and we have two ways for you to profit today…
2 Ways to Tap Into Telehealth
As we’ve shown you before, older Americans will lead the way into the next wave of health care spending.
And as smartphones and internet access continue to expand across the country, as insurers jump on board, even more patients could opt into virtual health care.
Smart investors looking to capitalize on this new shift should look at the Vanguard Health Care ETF (NYSE: VHT) and the Vanguard Communication Services ETF (NYSE: VOX).
These exchange-traded funds (ETFs) give you one-click access to these trends. They hold large groups of stocks that will benefit from increased health care and communication spending — like UnitedHealth Group (UNH) and Verizon Communications (VZ).
And these funds’ expense ratios are very low — meaning more of the profits from these gains will end up directly in your portfolio.
I’m not the only one who has experienced the power of virtual medicine firsthand. Other people on our team have seen the same thing.
But now we want to hear from you. Have you used telehealth or virtual visits with your doctor this past year? Tell us your story.
Email us at AmericanInvestor@BanyanHill.com.
Managing Editor, American Investor Today