By Nicholas Lorenzo, MD, MHCM, CPE, FAAPL
Chief Medical Officer, MeMD
COVID-19 has upended multiple industries in the U.S. and throughout the world – including healthcare. The pandemic has had an especially profound impact on telehealth and its applications.
As Chief Medical Officer of national telehealth company MeMD, I was both heartened and (I have to admit) a bit nervous when, in March, the President, Congress and multiple federal and state healthcare agencies pointed to virtual care as a major tool for combatting this public health crisis.
Five months later, telehealth has been wildly successful in helping to manage this crisis.
Telehealth is Central to the “New Normal”
It is not hyperbole to say that the last five months have brought about five years of growth for the telehealth industry. Change Healthcare and Harris Poll report the vast majority of consumers agree that COVID-19 will fundamentally change care delivery in America, with 80% of survey respondents indicating that COVID-19 has made telehealth an indispensable part of the healthcare system.
Of course, those of us in the business know that virtual care was primed for takeoff even before COVID-19. The U.S. Telehealth Satisfaction Study, released in Oct. 2019 by J.D. Power, indicated that the model was poised to grow considerably, citing extremely high customer satisfaction, positive word of mouth, convenience, speed and numerous other factors that are spurring the industry’s growth.
It’s clear the U.S. is on board with virtual care and eager to explore its applications post-COVID-19. Meanwhile, health outcomes for virtual visits continue to be as good as (or better than) in-person care. Patients can count on high-quality healthcare – and a host of other advantages – with telehealth. This model of care is quickly becoming “the new normal.”
Virtual Primary Care is About to Boom
One obvious and necessary extension of telehealth is the primary care setting. Primary care providers are the “quarterbacks” of U.S. healthcare; they provide and manage the care of their patients. For them, telehealth offers the ultimate solution for providing care “when, where, and how” the 21st century patient wants it. Meanwhile, patients now understand the advantages of interacting with their healthcare quarterback virtually via smartphone, tablet, and computer.
Virtual Model Addresses the Provider Shortage
Perhaps more pressing, telehealth offers a solution to a large and growing shortage of primary care providers – particularly in rural areas. Kaiser Family Foundation reported in 2019 that more than 14,000 primary care providers were needed to ease existing shortages. The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that number will climb as high as 55,200 by 2033.
Virtual primary care removes barriers for patients – no matter where they live – and enables providers to manage a larger number of patients in their practices. The availability of multi-modality virtual tools such as live interactive audio and video, text/messaging, store and forward technologies, and asynchronous care improve efficiency and redefine what it means to be at the point-of-care.
More than Video Visits
Telehealth is much more than just meeting with a clinician via video. The industry has evolved to include virtual solutions in evaluation, treatment, specialty referrals, laboratory testing, imaging studies and specialized diagnostic testing. Virtual management of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures is possible in most cases – and all from a computer or mobile device.
MeMD Now Offering Virtual Primary Care
MeMD is launching Virtual Primary Care, giving members across the country access to board-certified, NCQA-credentialed providers who will “quarterback” all of their healthcare needs – like preventive care, labs and imaging, men’s and women’s health and on-demand urgent care. Virtual primary care is available to small and large employer groups nationwide.