The pan­dem­ic gave us more rea­sons, and more options, to see doc­tors online. More and more, peo­ple are seek­ing out telemed­i­cine ser­vices ver­sus the tra­di­tion­al brick and mor­tar physician’s office. This trend includes tele­men­tal health ser­vices as well. And much like the neces­si­ty of remote work proved its poten­tial to employ­ers, telemed­i­cine took hold as a con­ve­nient, safe and effec­tive approach to healthcare.

While telemed­i­cine ser­vices per­form an impor­tant role in fill­ing gaps in care, they do not address chron­ic care and pri­ma­ry care of peo­ple. This short­com­ing has led to the cre­ation of an entire­ly new cat­e­go­ry: vir­tu­al pri­ma­ry care (VPC). Today, many employ­ers are explor­ing incor­po­rat­ing VPC into their employ­ee ben­e­fits offering.

In prac­tice, vir­tu­al pri­ma­ry care gives patients face-to-face time with their physi­cians across elec­tron­ic devices. VPC com­bines the con­ve­nience of tele­health tech­nol­o­gy with an empha­sis on build­ing and main­tain­ing strong rela­tion­ships between patients and the pri­ma­ry care providers (PCPs). It can be used for chron­ic con­di­tions such as asth­ma and dia­betes or screen­ing for issues like anx­i­ety and depres­sion. Dur­ing these vis­its, doc­tors can refer patients to spe­cial­ists or even write pre­scrip­tions for some acute ill­ness­es that do not require an in-per­son assessment.

The COVID-19 pan­dem­ic def­i­nite­ly thrust the use of telemed­i­cine for­ward, but many health­care providers have been using this type of ser­vice for years. What the pan­dem­ic did do is encour­age patients’ use of the tele­health ser­vices already in place. In fact, in 2020 tele­health vis­its increased 8,336% over vis­its in 2019 and tele­health appoint­ments con­tin­ue to rise.

Patients and med­ical pro­fes­sion­als strug­gle to stay afloat in the cur­rent health­care space. Long wait times have become the norm at doctor’s offices. As a result, more peo­ple are avoid­ing med­ical appoint­ments alto­geth­er. Along­side out­ra­geous wait times, patients are also plagued by high med­ical costs.

VPC is a cost-effec­tive way for more peo­ple to access health­care more eas­i­ly, as it reduces tak­ing time off from work and trav­el­ing to see a doc­tor – espe­cial­ly for those liv­ing in remote areas. Not every vis­it can be a dig­i­tal vis­it, but many can be.

The shift to vir­tu­al pri­ma­ry care is a solu­tion appeal­ing to younger gen­er­a­tions who enjoy the ease of dig­i­tal appoint­ments. A poll by the Kaiser Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion found one-fourth of all adults and near­ly half of adults under 30 don’t have a pri­ma­ry care provider — and don’t want one. Mil­len­ni­als and Gen Z (those born in 1997 or lat­er) are “dig­i­tal natives” and do not remem­ber a time when the inter­net and social media didn’t exist. As a result, they com­mu­ni­cate, shop and man­age all aspects of their lives dif­fer­ent­ly than gen­er­a­tions before them. When it comes to health­care, their expec­ta­tions are no dif­fer­ent. They want to sched­ule and com­plete a med­ical con­sul­ta­tion from the same place they order din­ner – their couch.

Today, all gen­er­a­tions of health con­sumers are demand­ing a focus shift from just health­care to health and well-being. VPC is a health­care evo­lu­tion that could open door­ways for patients to inter­act with more doc­tors, receive a bet­ter diag­no­sis, and reduce the com­mon health­care con­cerns that are so preva­lent today.