Recent surveys from the Kaiser Family Foundation have shown that roughly one in four American adults have not chosen a regular doctor that they see for general ailments. For adults under age 30, that ratio jumps to nearly half. For a health care system originally built on primary care-centered medicine—which has proven to reduce health care costs by one-third—this is unsettling news indeed. However, evolving technologies such as telemedicine services are re-shaping the health care landscape, forcing existing generalists to adapt to the new paradigm for survival.
Rather than take time from jam-packed schedules, consumers want convenience and control these days, and they’re willing to pay for it. Large drugstore chains such as CVS and Walgreens have been happy to comply, offering walk-in clinics to address minor health concerns including pink eye or ear infections. Some employers are building in-house clinics, and urgent care centers for non-life threatening emergencies have popped up in countless cities across the country. Traditionally, consumers have relied on the family doctor for these situations. Now, however, arranging a visit to the doctor’s office requires the sacrifice of time, effort, and missed work to schedule an appointment; and the appointment may not even be booked for another day or two. With walk-in clinics and employer clinics stepping in to offer immediate access to trained healthcare providers, whether in person or via telemedicine services, the need to visit designated primary care physicians is diminishing significantly.
Many primary care providers welcome this shift; with less demands on their time for addressing minor ailments, providers can dedicate more time and resources to keeping patients healthy in the first place. More emphasis can be placed on preventive medicine, and care coordination teams can communicate more quickly and easily as they take a more holistic approach to maximizing patient health—especially for patients with complex or chronic health needs. With easy access to telemedicine technology such as wearable monitors, patients’ health care data becomes easily accessible to their care teams, and patients can become more involved in developing their treatment plans.
As a result, rather than isolating consumers from their primary care providers, telemedicine as a medium is inviting individuals to communicate more frequently and openly with their care teams. With the addition of health coaches and mental health specialists, these teams are equipped to guide individuals through telemedicine services on nearly any topic related to health, such as nutrition, exercise, or depression. Patients who embrace this increased focus on preventive care can develop a stronger relationship with their healthcare team, leading to more open discussion, increased patient engagement, and higher patient satisfaction. And who doesn’t want a happier, healthier patient?