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Virtual Primary Care- Increasing Patient Access to Care

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans received care from their primary care providers via telemedicine. It was just another adjustment forced on people as a result of the terrible virus. But it worked. Providers and patients alike discovered there were many things they could accomplish over a video connection. Virtual primary care is part of the evolution of home-based telehealth, and is a great example of a successful hybrid approach to care, allowing patients to see their primary care provider in person or virtually, depending on their needs. It combines the convenience of telehealth with the ability to strengthen recurring relationships with primary care provider. It also can help provide a medical home for patients who have no primary care provider either due to lack of access or lack of engagement.

The emergence of virtual primary care stems from the recognition that the traditional primary care model doesn't work well for many patients. Access to care remains a major issue for many patients, due to geographical constraints and a growing shortage of primary care providers, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The best virtual primary care programs are well coordinated and enable a seamless care experience with the ability to transition patients between in-person and virtual care settings, and to various specialties or allied care providers as needed. In this way the care is holistic and the patient journey is clear and simple. Data sharing is another important part of creating a highly coordinated and seamless care experience. Records from all visits should be available to all providers on the telehealth platform across specialties and should be shared with the primary care provider in brick and mortar if one exists. This interoperability improves care and improves the referral and transition process. A strong virtual primary care program should facilitate labs ordering, radiology and other testing. Providers also should build workflows to provide other deliverables like forms, sick-slips, durable medical equipment ordering and prior authorization completion. The management of these functions should be seamless for the patient and should preference in-network services to save on costs.

To ensure patients are supported, virtual primary care programs should include care coordination capabilities. While much of the coordination can and should be automatically enabled by the technology powering the virtual primary care program, offering patients this added layer of support also is important. For example, secure messaging between patients, healthcare professionals and administrative staff can help patients receive quick answers to their questions and ensure that all of their needs are met in a timely fashion, even after a visit has finished. Ultimately, virtual primary care programs have the power to create a seamless and fully virtualized doctor's office experience, from automating the check-in process, to checkout and prescription renewals and everything in between.

Virtual primary care is a powerful tool for population health management. The flexibility of remote access makes it possible for providers to see patients' living conditions, evaluate social determinants of health, and respond in ways that make a deep impact on patients' lives. For instance, when evidence of food insecurity is found in a diabetic patient's home, the provider can connect the patient with community agencies that can offer assistance. This approach improves health outcomes and quality of life while strengthening the patient experience. Providers also can leverage virtual primary care to evaluate medication adherence among patients with diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. When breakdowns in medication adherence are discovered, providers and support staff can work to engage patients in following their treatment plan more closely. This avoids complications that can occur when patients deviate from recommended treatment

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