Industry Voices—It’s time to reimagine primary care with virtual tools

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Virtual primary care is the next generation of primary care. (Philips)

The vision of primary care is a great one: a single physician to quarterback your health.

A doctor charged with spotting potential health risks early, managing existing conditions and guiding you through a complex healthcare system.

If everyone had access to high-quality primary care, the outcome would be healthier lives and dramatic cost savings.

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In fact, adults with a primary care physician have 19% lower odds of premature death than their peers who see specialists, and they save 33% on healthcare costs. Despite the benefits, 30% of American adults and nearly half of millennials don’t have a primary care physician (PCP).

Of those you do have a PCP, only 15% see them at least once per year. Further, 80% of millennials have sworn off preventive care, with 9 out of 10 not scheduling doctor appointments at all. People are shifting away from PCP-patient relationships—why?

RELATED: Primary care using NPs and PAs to reach patients with virtual visits

Let’s look at the gaps in the primary care model, what patients are doing to fill them, and the solutions that will help patients receive quality care on their terms.

The Barriers to Receiving Primary Care

Let’s face it, primary care has become increasingly hard to come by. A combination of inaccessibility, physician shortages, and a shift in patient behavior have set high barriers to accessing quality care.

On average, it takes first-time patients 24 days to see a PCP, while in some parts of the country it can take as long as 52 days. Compounding this issue is our nationwide physician shortage, with a projected 90,000-physician shortfall by 2025. This current and increasing issue of inaccessibility contrasts patients’ rising expectations around timely healthcare.

In addition to inaccessibility, patients aren’t willing to take the time that is needed to see a primary care physician, as many Americans choose not to take sick days or schedule time off work for preventive care. The nature of in-person medical visits can be time-consuming. The average travel time to a brick-and-mortar facility is 37 minutes, and the time spent in a waiting room averages 64 minutes. This delivery system simply doesn’t work for large and growing segments of the population.

How Patients Are Scrambling to Fill the Gap

As it becomes increasingly difficult for patients to gain access to quality healthcare from primary care physicians, people are resorting to short-term solutions. These solutions often involve visits to urgent care facilities and emergency departments, which can be expensive and lack continuity of care.

This is especially problematic for the 60% of Americans living with at least one chronic disease, and the aging population who have increased healthcare needs. The costly impact of the Band-Aid approach for these populations is evident, with 81% of hospital admissions being people with a chronic disease.

RELATED: Does healthcare need a virtual medicine specialty? Experts aren’t so sure

Continuity of care is essential to improving patient outcomes, preventing serious illnesses from developing, and reducing the overall cost of care. So what can be done to reverse this trend?

The Tipping Point: Next-Generation Primary Care

It’s time for the healthcare industry to evolve. Patients need preventive care and a point of contact within the healthcare system now more than ever. To help patients achieve this, we need to create better solutions for accessing primary care. Quality care needs to be made accessible and affordable for all. We must put the patients’ needs first.

Providing primary care virtually offers a patient-first solution to the gaps in our healthcare system. It makes a doctor-patient relationship possible for the many Americans who live in healthcare deserts or have put their proactive health on the back burner due to inaccessibility. It provides consistent treatment for those with chronic conditions and can significantly reduce costs spent when preventative care is ignored.

With virtual primary care, wait times for initial consultations are measured in minutes, not weeks, and appointments are available from the comfort of home. Patients are able to see the same doctor for follow-ups and ongoing care, receive support with appointments, labs, and referrals, all while experiencing the ease of digital connectivity with dedicated care teams and third-party providers.

This complement to our current brick-and-mortar primary care model will allow healthcare to be as simple and convenient as possible for patients.

Together, as a healthcare community, we can work to overcome the barriers in connecting patients with the best quality care. We can fill the gap for tens of millions of Americans who don’t have a PCP and make primary care work better for those who do have a PCP.

Virtual primary care is the next generation of primary care.

Hill Ferguson is the CEO of Doctor on Demand.

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