Is telemedicine here to stay?
Demand for telehealth services has prompted new innovations in the at-home care space. It has also spurred questions about the long-term effects, benefits, and limitations of virtual care. What types of at-home care can be provided safely without an in-person physical interaction and a physical examination? Is telehealth the new normal for patients and care providers? In this blog, we review studies, articles, and recent press releases to explore the future of at-home care.
The rise of telehealth during COVID-19
At-home healthcare like pregnancy tests have been available since the 1970s — and HIV home-collection since 1996 — but constraints related to COVID-19 have launched telehealth, as well as care services like at-home diagnostic testing, into a new phase. “Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 17% of consumers had used telehealth,” writes Sasha Guttentag, PhD, a research scientist for telemedicine company GoodRx.
GoodRx Research surveyed 1,042 individuals, and found that “almost half of respondents used [telehealth] for the first time during COVID-19.” 60% of respondents plan to use telehealth alongside in-person visits going forward, and 25% plan to use telehealth exclusively. The pandemic has cultivated a sense of good will around the potential of virtual healthcare.
Virtual care as the new starting point
With the increased popularity of telehealth, some companies plan to offer virtual-first healthcare plans. In October 2021, UnitedHealthcare announced “a virtual-first health plan that offers an integrated approach to provide care both virtually and in-person.” Patients are matched with a personalized care team, led by a dedicated primary care provider who “connect[s] the individual to in-person [...] providers and other health professionals when necessary.” According to an article published by JAMA Network, this kind of virtual-first care is positioned to become the “starting place for most primary care.”
What this could look like for patients
There are a few virtual-first primary care variations for patients and physicians to explore in the future, as detailed by David C. Whitehead, MD and Ateev Mehrotra, MD of the JAMA Network.
- MDLive offers “a virtual primary care physician (PCP) or other primary health care professional to provide care that supplements a patient’s in-person PCP.” While patients are still encouraged to see their in-person doctor, virtual PCPs maintain an additional, ongoing relationship with patients.
- Another option is the one modeled by Firefly Health, in which “the virtual PCP [...] serves as a patient’s primary clinician,” not just an addition to the in-person PCP. Patients can access an entire virtual care team, including specialists. In this setup, patients who require in-person emergency healthcare are directed to a local urgent care.
While it might not completely replace in-person care, telemedicine services and virtual care are the new normal. Most patients intend to continue to utilize at least some at-home services that their healthcare providers support, and virtual-first healthcare is getting a dry run. The Ash Wellness platform provides total integration of at-home diagnostic testing to boost in-person care and virtual-first telemedicine services for the future of healthcare.
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