How telemedicine can help everyone have a primary care physician

By Bill Siwicki for Healthcare IT News

The National Academy of Medicine recently released a report urging everyone to have a primary care physician. The report went on to recommend that telehealth could have a role to play in this expansion of primary care.

Dr. Josh Emdur is chief medical officer at SteadyMD, a virtual primary care provider that also powers telehealth for digital health companies and employers. He is in an excellent position to comment on the report and the potential here for telemedicine, so Healthcare IT News interviewed him to get his perspective on the issue.

Q. That recent National Academy of Medicine report was pretty clear about the importance of everyone having a primary care provider. How can virtual care enable this?

A. Virtual care increases people’s access to professional medical care. The Internet allows everyone access to medical information, but using “Doctor Google” can be dangerous. Virtual care simply makes it more convenient for patients to connect with their primary care doctor to get personalized, professional medical care.

Virtual care creates a multimodal “front door” to healthcare. We can meet patients where they are at, whether it is on the phone, video call, chat or streamlining scheduling of an in-person appointment.

My personal mission is to improve the health of our society by delivering primary care that’s convenient, effective, high-value and accessible to all. Virtual care empowers clinicians with the tools and processes they need to deliver primary care at scale.

Q. How can telehealth provider organizations offer attractive jobs to attract these types of physicians?

A. During the pandemic, many physicians were able to experience virtual care for the first time and realized that healthcare was not confined to the walls of their clinic. Telehealth organizations now can capitalize on that by offering physicians jobs that provide more autonomy and freedom with the option for remote work.

At the end of the day, physicians want to help as many people as possible in a day with the least amount of headache. The leaders in the telemedicine world will elegantly write software and design processes that make it easier for physicians to provide exceptional care for their patients, while at the same time improving patient safety and the patient experience.

To prevent burnout in any field, one must have autonomy in their work, the ability to improve their skills, and know that what they are doing is important and has purpose. Telemedicine allows physicians to access all three of these qualities, if done right.

Q. What is virtual care’s place in the future of healthcare, and how will it fit in with in-person care?

A. The COVID-19 pandemic taught us that virtual care is effective for the diagnosis and management of many health conditions. We learned that with the right processes, physicians are able to go from seeing 20 patients a day in their clinic to many more per day virtually.

As we speak, virtual care is being adopted into the American healthcare system. It is my opinion that the terms “virtual care” and “telehealth” will soon become synonymous with “going to the doctor.” I like the term “connected care,” which means patients can use technology to improve their access and relationship with their doctor and healthcare team.

The patient ultimately will decide if virtual care is here to stay, but from my view, I don’t see us going back to the old way of insisting that every patient come into the office for a visit.

While virtual care is not appropriate for all conditions, technology can facilitate seamless access to healthcare. Once the patient is in the “virtual office,” the care team can work to get the patient to the right place, for the right test, for the right procedure, at the right time.

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