Virtual Primary Care: The New Doctor’s Office? | Virginia Employee Benefits Team

The pandemic gave us more reasons, and more options, to see doctors online.  More and more, people are seeking out telemedicine services versus the traditional brick and mortar physician’s office. This trend includes telemental health services as well. And much like the necessity of remote work proved its potential to employers, telemedicine took hold as a convenient, safe and effective approach to healthcare.

While telemedicine services perform an important role in filling gaps in care, they do not address chronic care and primary care of people.  This shortcoming has led to the creation of an entirely new category: virtual primary care (VPC).  Today, many employers are exploring incorporating VPC into their employee benefits offering.

In practice, virtual primary care gives patients face-to-face time with their physicians across electronic devices.  VPC combines the convenience of telehealth technology with an emphasis on building and maintaining strong relationships between patients and the primary care providers (PCPs).  It can be used for chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes or screening for issues like anxiety and depression.  During these visits, doctors can refer patients to specialists or even write prescriptions for some acute illnesses that do not require an in-person assessment.

The COVID-19 pandemic definitely thrust the use of telemedicine forward, but many healthcare providers have been using this type of service for years. What the pandemic did do is encourage patients’ use of the telehealth services already in place. In fact, in 2020 telehealth visits increased 8,336% over visits in 2019 and telehealth appointments continue to rise.

Patients and medical professionals struggle to stay afloat in the current healthcare space.  Long wait times have become the norm at doctor’s offices.  As a result, more people are avoiding medical appointments altogether.  Alongside outrageous wait times, patients are also plagued by high medical costs.

VPC is a cost-effective way for more people to access healthcare more easily, as it reduces taking time off from work and traveling to see a doctor – especially for those living in remote areas.  Not every visit can be a digital visit, but many can be.

The shift to virtual primary care is a solution appealing to younger generations who enjoy the ease of digital appointments.  A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found one-fourth of all adults and nearly half of adults under 30 don’t have a primary care provider – and don’t want one.  Millennials and Gen Z (those born in 1997 or later) are “digital natives” and do not remember a time when the internet and social media didn’t exist.  As a result, they communicate, shop and manage all aspects of their lives differently than generations before them.  When it comes to healthcare, their expectations are no different.  They want to schedule and complete a medical consultation from the same place they order dinner – their couch.

Today, all generations of health consumers are demanding a focus shift from just healthcare to health and well-being.  VPC is a healthcare evolution that could open doorways for patients to interact with more doctors, receive a better diagnosis, and reduce the common healthcare concerns that are so prevalent today.