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Primary Care Is Increasingly Going Virtual. What Does This Mean For Healthcare?

Healthcare is a behemoth puzzle. One large part of that complicated puzzle is primary care, which is broadly defined as “Health services that cover a range of prevention, wellness, and treatment for common illnesses.” This care is commonly established by developing long term relationships with a primary care provider (PCP), who can follow a patient’s health longitudinally over time, and advise a patient towards specialists as needed.

But the landscape of primary care has changed significantly, with its newest frontier entailing virtual services. As primary care often entails routine health checks, follow-up care, and more longitudinal medicine, healthcare providers, payors, and auxiliary technology companies are innovating new ways to deliver this much needed facet of medicine.

The latest company to work on this is CVS Health, which announced last week that it will be launching a comprehensive virtual primary care solution. The company’s goal is to make care more accessible, by giving “members access to primary care, on-demand care, chronic condition management, and mental health services virtually, with the option of being seen in-person when needed at an in-network provider, including MinuteClinic.” Creagh Milford, D.O., Vice President of Enterprise Virtual Care at the company, explains: “We’re meeting people where they are on their health care journey and providing care that is more convenient and easier to access […] By offering a connected care team where providers can easily exchange clinical information on behalf of their patients, and an extensive local footprint for in-person care follow-up, we’re able to provide consistent, high-quality care. This model shifts from reactive to proactive care that can ultimately improve outcomes and help lower costs.”

However, CVS Health is certainly not the only organization that sees the value proposition of this field. It joins numerous other household names which are equally interested in entering the virtual care arena. One of the most prominent recent ventures has been Amazon’s Care platform, which aims to “help manage your primary care and preventive health concerns […and…] promote[s] health and wellness through disease prevention and help[s] manage long-term medical conditions.” Traditional healthcare entities are also entering this race. Take for example Baylor Scott & White, which is one of the largest hospital systems in the country; the system will now offer virtual visits 24/7, connecting patients with a healthcare provider on demand.

But why the sudden gravitation towards virtual care?

One of the main reasons is the newfound focus and respect for digital health solutions. Consumers nationwide (and worldwide) are increasingly prioritizing ease, convenience, and speed. Often, this means that if they can receive similar care at home over a computer screen as they would driving to a clinic, they are willing to pay a premium fee for it. Furthermore, for many Americans, this solution is one of necessity rather than pure convenience. A vast portion of the American population cannot easily access primary care, whether it is because the primary care shortage has rendered very few physicians in their geographic area, or the fact that wait times to get an appointment can often extend up to months in many cities.

For many, virtual care is a welcomed change which allows them access to instant care. Finally, technological innovation has made this concept possible. It wasn’t that long ago that the majority of households had to rely on slow, cumbersome dial-up internet. Now, with the advent of high speed broadband and fiber-optic internet access, it has become possible to envision complex use-cases for the internet such as streaming a virtual visit with your physician.

Undoubtedly, as virtual primary care continues to relentlessly expand its horizons, it will be illuminating to understand and witness its significant impact on the American healthcare system in the years to come.

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