Overcoming barriers to care
Studies suggest less than two-thirds of patients under 60 have a primary-care physician, Gallifant said. “But even among those who do, they may not have a strong relationship with them and find it difficult to book appointments when needed.”
Telemedicine can remove barriers to primary care use, such as giving patients access to providers sooner, particularly in communities with physician shortages. Patients who use a primary care physician (PCP) regularly have fewer healthcare costs and better health outcomes than those who do not, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.4
Humana and Doctor On Demand launched On Hand™ last year to provide virtual primary care. “This new health plan design represents a paradigm shift in healthcare and demonstrates that our members can and will build long-term relationships with primary care providers and care teams in a virtual-first care setting," said Chris Hunter, segment president, group and military business at Humana.
Expanding virtual primary care
Virtual primary care will increase and improve as digital health technology advances. “Remote monitoring devices and connected peripherals can make the telemedicine visit much more powerful,” Icke said.
Building tight linkages with laboratories that can provide test results, such as those for at-home COVID-19 test kits, can help as well. “Integrating offline components into the digital experience brings together the best of both worlds to enable convenience and clinical effectiveness for patients. Virtual-first shouldn’t mean virtual only,” Gallifant said.
Providers also can care for multiple patients simultaneously via text messages or online chats. And artificial intelligence chatbots can help determine whether a patient needs a telehealth visit or to see a provider at all, which can help improve health outcomes while limiting costs.
“The next frontier of virtual care is virtual primary care,” Icke said. “Patients can build a sustainable relationship with their provider instead of interacting with them occasionally.”