The future of primary care delivery is virtual


COVID-19 has changed the way employees interact with their healthcare delivery and highlighted the importance of virtual care.

While telehealth services were previously available, the pandemic resulted in a 50% increase in virtual visits during the first quarter of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Originally, telehealth was a necessity for social distancing during the peak of the pandemic. Now, these programs have evolved to provide a more personalized and life-saving option for employers.

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“At the beginning, what we think of like telehealth really looked more like emergency care, ”said Michael Swarts, president of benefit provider Health Karma. “Now employees can choose a doctor and build that relationship as if it were primary care in person. Not only do they like it, but they ask, ‘why i didn’t do it sooner. ‘”

Forty-three percent of HR professionals surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management said their organizations have increased the benefits of telemedicine because of the pandemic. Additionally, 90% of those polled said traditional benefits like healthcare took on new importance during COVID.

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In a recent interview with Benefits News, Swarts shared his thoughts on the impact of COVID on virtual care, how employees are using the benefits and what’s in store for the future.

How has the pandemic changed the way employees use virtual healthcare?
Virtual primary care is no longer just for urgent care. Employees can choose a doctor and continue to see that doctor and really build that relationship as if it was primary care in person.

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One of the biggest changes is in virtual behavioral health, which has been of incredible value to patients as they can get the care they need and can speak to a therapist from the comfort of their home. It’s starting to go away, but there has been this stigma around behavioral health and seeing a therapist. But we have seen an incredible demand for these solutions because people realize that they have to take care of their own. Mental Health, and they are really confident in these solutions.

What are your predictions for the future of virtual healthcare delivery?
In the future, employers will look at virtual care in two ways: for small employers, it is a way to provide some sort of benefit to all of their employees, whether they are full-time employees. or part-time. Then, for large employers, virtual care is part of the overall benefits package they offer.

Let’s say an employer offers a high deductible health plan. Their employees might have to pay out of pocket until they hit their deductible, or maybe they have a $ 60 copay. Because most Americans live paycheck to paycheck, people will avoid going to the doctor because they are afraid of this medical bill. But, done right, virtual care can be linked to an insurance plan to provide employees with first dollar coverage.

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Employees will be able to see this primary care physician and therapist without having to pay $ 100 to $ 300. They will be able to use this insurance plan when they need it, like auto insurance. We will see more of a hybrid model of virtual and traditional offerings.

How can virtual care help employees become better consumers of health care?
Most Americans are illiterate when it comes to health care, and it’s not because they’re not smart enough; it’s because health care is so complex. When you talk to many doctors, they don’t understand how insurance works – they can’t tell you if a service is covered or how much you’ll pay. We’re seeing companies, like Health Karma, really focusing on providing a place for education, and by focusing on that, you can empower people to navigate their own healthcare.

But we’re still not doctors, and that’s where virtual primary care really helps. Using virtual care, you can talk to your primary care doctor and he can then guide you to what makes sense. This idea of ​​the employee able to understand and navigate their health care is one where we will have to make everything more consumer friendly, but at the same time it will be a combined effort where this patient will know how to use their Insurance.