Employee healthcare continues to be the biggest expense of U.S. businesses. Insurance costs increase every year – and each year the expenses cut more deeply into the bottom line. The biggest drivers of employers’ healthcare costs are chronic conditions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, five chronic diseases or risk factors – high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking and physical inactivity – cost U.S. businesses $36.4 billion a year because of employee absenteeism. The CDC also reports that six in 10 U.S. adults have a chronic disease, and four in 10 have two or more chronic conditions.  It’s clear that employers nationwide are feeling the sting.

The Role of Primary Care

The good news is that primary care drives these costs down. A wealth of medical studies link access to primary care with positive health outcomes, and new research reported in JAMA shows a direct correlation between the number of primary care doctors and an increase in life expectancy.

It’s especially valuable for people with chronic conditions. Primary care providers play a central role in care management of these patients, from tracking symptoms and managing medications to coordinating specialist care and prescribing lifestyle changes.

In general, healthcare systems are designed to handle acute, episodic care needs – like a broken leg or a bout with pneumonia – but primary care offers ongoing treatment of people with long-term conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

The Issue of Access

Primary care doctors play an important role in chronic disease management, but they can only play that role when people have access to care.

The American Association of Medical Colleges reports the nation could be short 55,200 primary care physicians by 2032. In other words, it’s getting harder for consumers to access primary care.

Without easy access, people miss out on routine and preventive care that can improve their health and bring costs down – but that’s just the beginning. This lack of access can actually drive costs higher. Patients may seek treatment at the ER for non-urgent health issues that could be addressed in the primary care setting. Worse, they may delay medical care altogether until minor health issues become major problems – and are far more expensive to treat.

This is especially true for patients with chronic disease, which can get much worse – and much more expensive – without a primary care provider at the helm of care management.

Even the best and most expensive insurance plans cannot guarantee easy or convenient access to primary care.

Virtual-First Model Fills the Gaps

The rapid acceleration of telehealth amid COVID-19 has cleared a path for a new and better care delivery model: Virtual primary care removes barriers created by the provider shortage, improves access to care for employees and their families and drives down healthcare costs for businesses.

It has also emerged as a highly effective, lower-cost solution for chronic disease management. According to new research from McKinsey & Company, evidence prior to COVID-19 shows that telehealth solutions deployed for chronic populations can improve total cost of care by 2-3%. The actual opportunity is likely more significant as telehealth continues to reinforce its place as the new normal.

It’s clear that telehealth has become an essential part of the healthcare system, and virtual primary care is the next – and arguably the most important – evolution. It is positioned to improve health outcomes across the board – for the healthiest patients and those facing chronic disease. For businesses, it has the potential to cut healthcare costs dramatically and improve the bottom line.

Download this whitepaper to learn more about the advantages of virtual primary care.

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