Many healthcare consumers today are disconnecting from traditional primary care, since the current experience is not meeting consumers’ expectations, some industry observers say.

When consumers disengage, the promise of traditional primary care cannot be realized. The situation results in increased ER and urgent care usage, undiagnosed chronic conditions, unmet mental health needs, and other problems, they add.

Rob Bressler, senior vice president of Primary360 at Teladoc Health, contends that virtual primary care inspires lasting relationships between patients and providers through a longitudinal care plan, continuous care team support and a unified whole-person experience.

Health plans leveraging virtual primary care, he continues, can better close gaps in care, lower costs, deliver better clinical outcomes and expand access to care.

Healthcare IT News sat down with Bressler to talk about how he would reimagine primary care in an era where telehealth has gone mainstream, and how this reimagined primary care can close care gaps, lower costs and deliver improved outcomes.

Q. You are big on reimagining primary care. Why do you think primary care needs to be reimagined?

A. Primary care is widely accepted as a valued care model that helps contain rising costs. Those who engage with primary care identify their health issues earlier and more effectively, have better medication adherence, enjoy better chronic disease management, and ultimately gain better health outcomes.

Despite its benefits, approximately 50% of adults 18-49 have not had a recent primary care visit, and many don’t have a relationship with a primary care physician. Additionally, primary care is facing a PCP shortage due to retirees, worsening job satisfaction and burnout, and challenging economics.

The pandemic has amplified these issues. There has been a dramatic drop in the volume of in-person primary care office visits during COVID, with a decline in screenings, preventive care and other primary care services. Many primary care practices have had to scale back as a result, or may even close permanently, only exacerbating the existing PCP shortage.

Because primary care is a key enabler of prevention, wellness and chronic condition management, the shortcomings of the primary care relationship could lead to more vulnerable populations and limit the potential benefits for patients.

The promise to deliver quality primary care in a more consumer-friendly and effective way coupled with the anticipated PCP shortages indicates that the demand for virtual primary care will grow significantly over the next few years.

Q. What does your reimagined primary care look like, and what role does telemedicine play?

A. Virtual primary care reimagines primary care by understanding a patient’s needs over time, proactively and seamlessly navigating them to the right care, whether for urgent needs, specialty care, a wellness visit or beyond.

It offers primary care through a continuous relationship with a dedicated primary care physician and care team, where patients benefit from virtual access to 24/7 urgent care, prevention, screening and ongoing condition management in one experience that is convenient and highly personalized.

Virtual primary care can address challenges in traditional care and help fill existing care gaps. With it, consumers experience reduced wait times and increased time spent with a provider, earlier detection of chronic conditions, comprehensive care coordination, and lower costs.

Q. You contend that health plans leveraging virtual primary care can better close gaps in care, lower costs, deliver better clinical outcomes and expand access to care. Please explain how.

A. Virtual primary care embedded in a virtual-first health plan offers a novel alternative for employers and health plans to lower costs while at the same time improve outcomes and member engagement.

These plans create a benefit design that is optimized for members who prefer a virtual front door to care, which we know more and more individuals are interested in. Plan sponsors are then able to tailor plan design and engagement strategies for those who have expressed interest in virtual care, and can achieve both cost and quality measures by doing so.

It’s also important to note that primary care is a significant driver of chronic, specialty and mental healthcare, and thus a key factor in influencing outcomes. Virtual primary care can be optimized to act as a hub for these other services. 

The result is better access to convenient, tailored healthcare that drives high member satisfaction paired with better outcomes and lower overall cost for our clients.

The healthcare ecosystem is evolving, and it’s clear that improving health outcomes will require considering the centrality of virtual solutions in plan design as an opportunity to address consumers’ needs and transform the quality of primary care.

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: [email protected]
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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