Primary Care and Telehealth Trends after the Pandemic

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of broadly accessible primary care targeting chronic conditions, social determinants of health, and racial equity.  As a medical community, we’ve adopted medical technologies to achieve that broader care during covid-19, and those technologies are likely to remain with us. 

We expect that in the coming months and years there will continue to be a popular emphasis on policies, programs, and technologies which not only seek to increase access to care but emphasizes equity and seek to prioritize addressing social determinants of health.  Black, Indigenous, Asian, Immigrant, and other historically marginalized communities have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic.  In light of the shifts to virtual care and prioritizing primary care and healthcare to address social determinants of health, broadband internet access is becoming a part of healthcare. 

The medical community has taken remarkable steps to increase access to care during this pandemic by adopting new technologies, such as increasingly using telemedicine and other tools to reach our patients remotely. In particular, telemedicine is likely here to stay--although likely in slightly different capacities than today because telemedicine and other medical technologies are augmenting our capacity for care. These technologies are allowing us to reach our current patients, but increasing our capacity for telemedicine further allows us to reach patients who previously faced barriers to access our care at all, like patients in rural areas.

Industry analyses predict that some of the adjustments that we’ve made to provide our patients with healthcare during the pandemic are likely to stick around even when covid is less of a risk for our communities.  For example, McKinsey reports that over three-quarters of patients are dramatically more in favor of using telehealth technologies going forward - a dramatic increase from the approximately 11% of polled patients who had used telehealth in 2019.  Because the medical community has been forced to adapt to telehealth technologies, we’ve felt more comfortable using these technologies - and may be more inclined to consider adopting other technologies to improve access to our care. 

Virtual primary care has been rapidly accelerating, but these trends are more and more likely to bleed into specialty care.  Virtual specialty care can increase both access and affordability for patients - central as the scientific community learns both about long-term health impacts of covid-19 ‘long haulers’ but also to address the pressing gaps in existing care.  We are also likely to start to see an increase in the synchronous/asynchronous care that integrates specialists beyond the traditional radiologists so that our patients’ symptoms are able to be addressed by more specialists.  

Other industry trends that are likely to stick around after covid-19 include more remote patient treatment and monitoring.  Particularly high-risk patients, for example those with compromised immune systems, will be less likely to come into the hospital, and chronic conditions and chronic conditions are more and more likely to be monitored remotely.  Virtual consults and check-ups will provide physicians and other healthcare providers to provide more care during these treatments because check-ins can be faster and occur with more regularity.

We will likely find that primary care will change significantly as our medical community increases access to care, and that will highlight our need for medical technologies targeted to address gaps. AI and other new medical technologies are likely to become our sturdy sidekicks to increase our patients’ access to care.  We will need intuitive technologies to help us reach more patients in meaningful capacities.  The most effective technologies will be innovations that emphasize the personal side of medicine and augment our capacity for care, particularly when focusing on primary care providers.  

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