Sapphire Digital CEO says people seeking non-COVID health care likely will have new priorities post-pandemic

Patients have largely discharged themselves from the medical setting. In this year’s second quarter, there were 27 million fewer primary care visits than the past two years, according to a JAMA Network Open review — a number not offset by the increase in telemedicine. Hospital admissions for non-COVID-19 reasons also have fallen off.

With promising news of two COVID-19 vaccines comes the expectation that patients will return to these settings in the not-too-distant future. And, when they do, the services of one Lyndhurst company, Sapphire Digital, will be a gem.

So says Kyle Raffaniello, CEO of the digital health care company, which aims to make shopping in this sector more like a retail experience.

“Because, as people reenter the health care system again, they’re going to be reentering in a different way,” she said. “They’ll want to understand more fully what their options are in terms of both settings of care and costs.”

Raffaniello cited a survey her own company did that found that just about half of adults say they’ll be changing how they access care options following the pandemic, including reevaluating where they go for a procedure and the costs associated with it.

“There’s many more concerns about costs now than in prior times,” she said. “You also have all these procedures that have been canceled or deferred this year, building this pent-up demand as the health care system shut down for other priorities. And people have had time to think about their options during that.”

Data from medical journals suggest that hospital admissions not related to COVID-19 and medical office visits are rebounding overall, but, as the numbers of those infected with the novel coronavirus continue to rise across the country, tepidness remains.

But, when things come back online, Raffaniello expects a rush of people shopping in the health care marketplace. That already happened to some degree with elective surgeries, when states allowed procedures to restart with new restrictions.

“We’ve already seen our shopping come back up from the massive slowdown in February and March,” Raffaniello said. “When there’s more of a pickup, we expect to see a new interest in examining options.”

Sapphire Digital’s platforms, which include CareSelect and SmartShopper — and now pair with the technology company Vim to schedule appointments — primarily offer transparency tools and information in an industry in which prices can be opaque. Raffaniello calls it acting as “the source of truth” for health care consumers.

To that end, Raffaniello said she’s seen a renewal of conversations about how the sector’s price transparency across the country often leaves people wanting. There’s been legislation such as the Health Care PRICE Transparency Act that’s hoped to redress that, as well as a call to build price transparency into a future pandemic relief package.

“Whatever side of the aisle you’re sitting on, transparency seems to be an issue that has bipartisan support,” Raffaniello said.

When people have all the information they need to make decisions about their health, it tends to be better for everyone involved, Raffaniello added. Her company’s SmartShopper innovation reportedly saves members of employer-sponsored health plans about 25-40% on common types of procedures.

“There’s a lot that’s possible when you’re providing consumers with the right information at the right moment,” she said.