Top myths about virtual primary care, busted
Moderator: Craig Root, Senior Vice President, Employer Sales, Teladoc Health
Laurie Mitchell, RDN, Associate Vice President, Global Wellbeing & Health Management, Unum
Simone Pratt, Senior Director, Health & Benefits, WTW
We all know there is a growing shortage of primary care physicians (PCPs) throughout the U.S., and it can sometimes take months to get an appointment, resulting in delayed care and important interventions which are costly for organizations and their employees. People also want care that’s convenient and personalized, and employers are looking to provide equitable care. So, what can employers do to achieve these goals? Well, virtual primary care was certainly a hot topic at Forum 2023. Yet there are still misconceptions around this model. Craig Root, SVP, Employer Sales, Teladoc Health, hosted a panel with Laurie Mitchell, RDN, AVP, Global Wellbeing & Health Management, Unum and Simone Pratt, SD, Health & Benefits, WTW to debunk the top 4 myths around virtual primary care.
Myth #1: Virtual primary care is only for urgent, episodic healthcare needs. “Our global wellbeing and health benefits strategy is about access, choice, flexibility, prevention, and the employee experience…and virtual care and virtual primary care go a long way to check off those boxes,” said Laurie Mitchell. With virtual primary care, people are getting those preventive care interventions, as well as help managing chronic conditions and mental health concerns. She added that half of Unum’s virtual primary care visits were for follow up, so it’s not just for that initial visit. “Well beyond episodic issues, we’re talking about an entry point into the healthcare system,” said Simone Pratt. Employers are now looking at their benefits package and evaluating equity and total rewards holistically. “This being one, tangible action that can be made to improve access on the ground immediately for employees with families while at the same time achieving goals around personalization and flexibility” she added.
Myth #2: Virtual primary care is only for people who don’t have a PCP. When people don’t have access to primary care, they are forced to delay care which results in higher costs for both employers and employees. There are also people who have a PCP but aren’t satisfied with the relationship (or lack thereof) with them and are “care avoidant because of bias, discrimination, affordability and in some cases, simply because of time”, Laurie Mitchell said. She added that 45% of participants in the Unum virtual primary care program did have a PCP, “which tells us virtual primary care is… sometimes a better solution for certain segments of the population”. Simone adds that it’s an access and equity issue and that there are gaps in the experience where someone is trying to engage with their benefits, but they don’t have access or don’t know how “we’re talking about layering on an additional option here, it’s not an either or”.
Myth #3: Virtual primary care costs too much. Delaying care is more costly for everyone. There’s unnecessary ER/urgent care usage and increasing costs for behavioral healthcare, but “virtual care goes a long way towards addressing some of these costs…” Laurie Mitchell said. She stated that 22% of participants in Unum’s virtual primary care program would not have sought care and 44% would have had costly ER/urgent care visits if it weren’t for the virtual option. She also said there have been 83 referrals to specialists, mostly for preventive cancer screenings, 70% of participants had a lab order, 70% were given a prescription, and a number of gaps in care screenings were done for depression, anxiety, obesity, blood pressure or tobacco usage, “so it really is helping individuals better manage their conditions and costs, benefiting both of us, as the employer and our employees…so, it’s actually too expensive not to do it.” The National Academy of Science says that [employers] could save $4.1T if people had preventive care. Simone adds that preventive care is where there is true savings and value over time, and research has shown primary care to be an effective intervention.
Myth #4: Virtual primary care will not continue in a post-COVID world. The pandemic forced the healthcare system to bring forth innovative solutions. Teladoc Health conducted a survey and found that 88% of respondents will continue to use virtual care services for all their healthcare needs in a post-COVID world. There is much interest and traction with this type of model and consumers want and are expecting these virtual tools and resources. “It’s here to stay”, said Simone Pratt, “we view it as part of the future ecosystem where virtual care will really be at the center”.