We don’t need to run diagnostic tests to know that the healthcare system in the U.S. is gravely ill. High costs and subpar care are just the tip of the iceberg for patients today. Annual wellness checks, while well-intentioned, make it all too likely for people to wait for months at a time to ask their doctor about troubling symptoms rather than seeking more immediate attention.
When the COVID-19 pandemic led many people to avoid medical offices, doctors feared that neglected ailments could worsen. While this concern has to some extent been borne out, there was one unanticipated silver lining: a coming-of-age moment for telehealth. In the early months of the pandemic, consumer adoption of telehealth more than quadrupled from 11% to 46% as virtual visits quickly became the initial touchpoint for many primary and mental health care consultations.
For the first time, both doctors and patients were exposed to virtual tools that enabled them to connect swifter and more often. These digital interactions weren’t a full replacement for physical visits, but rather an opportunity for check-ins, questions, and referrals to be expedited, and in-person appointments to be scheduled as needed. Easier and more convenient care has generally resulted in a positive experience for everyone involved and is now creating employee adoption and demand for telehealth services to become a more standard option.
Telehealth has a long history in specific niche scenarios such as chronic pain management, specialty telemedicine consultation and sleep disorders, but the past year has seen a rapid acceleration in its adoption as a core element of routine care. As the pandemic finally begins to wane, how can we take the experience and insights gained beyond ad hoc practices and anecdotes to inform a full reinvention of primary care?
Patients move to the center of healthcare
The expansion of telehealth comes in the context of a broad trend toward more patient-centric delivery of care. Value-based care models seek to improve quality and efficiency while reducing cost by partnering healthcare providers with community-based organizations to better reach underserved people within their own communities. Among payers, an emphasis on increasing preventive care support seeks to catch issues before they worsen, which not only improves patient outcomes but drives down costs by avoiding more serious interventions — one model projects revenue savings of up to 20%.
Read more: Balancing the pros and cons of telehealth
Employer engagement initiatives seek to empower patients with measures to better manage their own health, such as fitness subsidies, smoking cessation programs, and mental health resources.
The team-based model aims to go even further by taking a 360-degree approach to wellness. Yet truly holistic care would have to include the Patient-Centered Medical Home model — which can only be dovetailed by telehealth.
In development for more than half a century under the leadership of groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the National Academy of Medicine, the PCMH fundamentally reorients the practice of primary care delivery. Instead of the limited care that a single doctor can provide, a team-based approach proves to have more success at keeping patients healthy and helping them achieve their comprehensive wellness goals.
The PCMH model encompasses five principles:
Comprehensive care – A single primary care medical home meets most of the patient’s physical and mental health care needs, from prevention and wellness to acute and chronic care. Through this home, the patient can access the services of a complete team of care providers such as physicians, advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, social workers, educators, and care…