COVID-19 driving adoption of telemedicine

A woman and child video chat with another woman on a laptop.

This pandemic called for changes in the way that we access healthcare in order to minimize the transmission of COVID-19 and reduce the impact of patient surges on medical facilities and resources. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, trends showed some increased interest in use of telehealth services, but adoption was slow. However, recent policy changes have reduced barriers to telehealth access and have promoted the use of telehealth as a way to deliver acute, chronic, primary and specialty care.1

The increase in adoption has been dramatic. In April, Humana had more than 1 million telehealth visits, a daily average of more than 33,000 visits, among its network providers, compared with just a few hundred per day as recently as February 2020, said Dave Icke, vice president of digital health and analytics product for Humana.

“Telemedicine offers a compelling alternative to a patient’s typical experience with the healthcare system—offering care in a convenient way at any place at any time of day,” said Caleb Gallifant, vice president of product development and partnerships at Humana. “With the increased ability to not only see a physician in a timely fashion, but build a primary care relationship to support preventive health, patients can get the health guidance they need through modern and convenient means.”

Studies show that in-person primary care visits dropped nearly 50% during business closings and social distancing restrictions in response to COVID-19, and telemedicine visits remain high even as states reopen.2 At the end of June, 53% of primary care providers stated that patients were not scheduling well visits or chronic care visits despite their availability in the practice, according to a survey by the Primary Care Collaborative.3

“You’re going to see a different healthcare system as a result of the virus that is going to be much more distributed in the ability to deliver care,” Humana CEO Bruce Broussard said in explaining telehealth’s lasting impact, opens new window on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.”

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.”


  1. “Using Telehealth to Expand Access to Essential Health Services during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, last accessed January 13, 2021,, opens new window.
  2. Dylan Scott, “Coronavirus has Created a Crisis for Primary Care Doctors and Their Patients,” Vox, April 27, 2020, last accessed January 13, 2021,, opens new window.
  3. “Primary Care & COVID-19: Week 15 Survey,” Primary Care Collaborative, July 1, 2020, last accessed January 13, 2021, , opens new window.
  4. “What Are the Benefits of Having a Primary Care Physician?” Cornerstone Family Healthcare, last accessed September 8, 2021,, opens new window.