What's Vital to the Future of Health?

October 7, 2020

What's Vital to the Future of Health?

Sarah Kasarsky

COVID-19 has rapidly propelled Americans into using health technologies to manage both their physical and mental well-being. How have these innovations helped provide a sense of control during a time of great uncertainty, and how can brands step in to close the accessibility gap for consumers?

This was the topic of OBERLAND’s latest webinar, There Is No Normal, Only New: What’s Vital to the Future of Health, a 60-minute dialogue grounded in findings from OBERLAND’s recent study, powered by real-time market research firm Suzy, on consumers’ behaviors and perceptions surrounding health and wellness amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Learn more about the study findings below.

The discussion, led by OBERLAND’s President and Co-Founder, Drew Train and Head of Strategy and Partner, Davianne Harris, brought together thought leaders in digital health and innovation: Neil Leibowitz, Chief Medical Officer at Talkspace, Debra Bass, Chief Marketing Officer at Nuvo and Colleen Sellers, VP Marketing at TytoCare.

Key points made by panelists included:

  • Technology has shifted power dynamics within the healthcare landscape. Innovations in health technology have helped distribute care from the doctor’s office to the home. Whether technology is being used for step-counting, virtual care visits or sleep tracking, health tech has given patients a key to their own data - something that used to be privy to health professionals. This unprecedented access empowers consumers to be involved in their care journeys, whether proactively or reactively.
  • Telehealth should be a “no compromise visit.” Telehealth visits, whether for physical or mental health, should not serve as a back-up” or “stand-in” for an in-person appointment, but a visit that is equally as effective. Telehealth, like in-person visits, is simply one way a consumer can receive care - and thinking about virtual visits from this balanced perspective provinces an opportunity for consumers to expand the way they choose to receive care.
  • Telehealth cannot replace in-person care - Many health care procedures are anchored in in-person care, such as getting vaccines, undergoing blood work or having surgery. The real-life, doctor-patient relationship is vital in many of these scenarios; we want to know - and trust - the doctor delivering our baby or the baby of a loved one, or the surgeon who will be operating on us or a loved one. While these scenarios cement the future of in-person healthcare, at least for the foreseeable future, consumers can lean on virtual care and telehealth for physical and mental periodic care. 

  • Virtual visits can help consumers become more comfortable with proactive care. Virtual visits allow for anonymity, and this ability to receive care from the privacy of home can encourage consumers to seek professional help sooner, for conditions they may otherwise try to ignore (think the stigma of STD testing or entering a psychiatrist’s office).  With virtual care, there’s no running into the co-worker in the doctor’s waiting room, and this simple fact can encourage many more people to proactively schedule the appointments they need to best care for themselves.
  • Reimbursement changes are crucial for underserved communities to access the care they need. While telehealth innovations increase access to physical and mental health care for many, technology also poses barriers for those in underserved communities due to high prices and insurance requirements. Health technology companies can help increase patient compliance and access by partnering with Medicaid and payer systems to ensure technology is not only available, but affordable and covered for those who can benefit most from the convenience of virtual care. 

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No one could have predicted the events of the last six months: a global pandemic, school-from-home, work-from-home, the death of RBG...the list goes on. During a time in which our day-to-day is continuously new and unprecedented, it’s only natural that we search for aspects of life we can control - and one facet of life we can all easily manipulate is our own health and wellness. 

OBERLAND’s latest study, There Is No Normal, Only New: Checking Up on Virtual Care found that 84% of Americans have become more proactive about their health and its management since COVID-19 began. This charge has manifested in a variety of ways, from increased vitamin intake to exercising more frequently, to how we manage and receive our healthcare. COVID-19 flipped the switch on in-person care when going to a doctor’s office became more of a health threat than a respite, and amid the absence of in-person options, Americans were propelled into using health technology - from telehealth appointments, medical trackers and even fitness apps - to manage their well-being. In fact, 71% of Americans have used telehealth for care appointments during COVID-19 and a majority (64%) have also started using wearable technology to better track lifestyle habits since the pandemic began.

But what started as a stand-in for in-person care has quickly become a preferred method of health care and management for many Americans. Six months into the pandemic, only 22% of Americans say they are currently using telehealth out of necessity. Americans are opting to connect with doctors virtually for its convenience (43%) and safety benefits (36%), and have no plans of returning to the old, in-person ways; 71% of Americans say they are likely to continue using telehealth once the pandemic ends. This highlights the extent to which Americans believe the many “pros” of telehealth - like reduced wait times and instant access to doctors - outweigh what virtual care may lack, such as in-person relationships with doctors and close examinations.

This shift to health technologies for care management translates well beyond physical health. With 83% of Americans reporting they feel more stressed since COVID-19 began, mental wellness and virtual therapy apps like Calm, Talkspace and Betterhelp have become a lifeline for many Americans grappling with their mental wellness during this challenging time. A majority of Americans have relied on these services since COVID-19 began, and nearly one in three (30%) of individuals who attended therapy in-person prior to COVID-19 say they will now opt for virtual sessions post-pandemic. 

While many brands tout that their health innovations can make care more accessible (think “doctors on demand anytime, anywhere” and “instant access to your health data”), our study found that lower income households (< $75K) have far lower adoption rates than wealthier households. This can be attributed to barriers like high price points of technology and insurance requirements in order to connect with a doctor. As health innovations continue to grow as a primary channel for health care and management, brands in the space must be more mindful of accessibility. If a virtual care brand is truly committed to making healthcare more accessible for all, it must acknowledge - and find a solution for - these barriers. Regardless of income level, consumers are on board with a lower price-point for health innovations; nearly half (48%) of Americans believe health technology should be more affordable.

As health technologies continue to permeate the care space, Americans are more likely now than ever to turn to these new innovations for their health needs. This begs an enormous opportunity for brands to innovate tech solutions for more specialized conditions (think pregnancy tracking like Nuvo) and more acute needs. It’s up to brands to show consumers the way of the future, and how technology can help them control their health and wellness no matter what comes their way.

Want more? Read our initial There Is No Normal, Only New report here.

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