- Teladoc Health on Wednesday announced it is making its virtual primary care pilot broadly available to commercial health plans, employers and other benefits sponsors nationwide.
- The Primary360 service, which the New York-based telemedicine giant has been piloting for the past few years, is currently being used by several large companies, and will be available through CVS Health-owned payer Aetna early next year, Teladoc said in a release.
- The vendor hopes Primary360 will serve as an access point to the primary care system while enticing patients to its other services like specialty care and mental health to boost business.
The verdict is still out on how high telehealth demand will be after the COVID-19 pandemic, but virtual primary care has emerged as a key area of long-term investment for telehealth providers, payers and employers alike. Proponents of the service tout how technology can expand access to primary care to prevent downstream health complications and costs through prevention and screening.
Despite the importance of a comprehensive primary care system, it's a chronically underfunded and overlooked area of U.S. healthcare.
According to a 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the proportion of U.S. adults with a primary care physician fell from 77% in 2002 to 75% in 2015. Among 30-year-olds, the proportion dropped from 71% to 64% in the same timeframe.
It's a concerning trend for many in the medical field, as primary care physicians are often the first point of contact within the healthcare system for patients. Physicians can recognize signs of depression, anxiety or an undiagnosed chronic condition, for example, while ensuring patients are up to date on screenings. Those routine check-ups can head off worsening medical needs and costs down the line. One study estimates that if everyone in the U.S. had a primary care physician, the annual savings would top $62 billion.
Teladoc is hoping its primary care service will fill that gap. In Primary360, members have access to a physician-led care team to help them navigate to any additional providers, and also receive a personalized care plan with health coaching.
According to the vendor, the pilot of the service it launched two years ago found that two-thirds of members previously lacked traditional primary care.
Meanwhile, it's also a useful front door for bringing in new business, especially as research begins to show declining consumer satisfaction and utilization in telehealth as COVID-19 case rates fall following the summer surge.
According to preliminary findings from Primary360's first year, more than half of users also used at least one other Teladoc service, while nearly 30% used two connected services, like urgent care, dermatology or nutrition.
Investors were spooked in July following Teladoc's second quarter results, as — despite strong year-over-year revenue growth — membership numbers remained largely stagnant, boosting concerns virtual visits could drop off as the coronavirus wanes.
Teladoc, facing steadily falling shares since February, is likely banking on programs like Primary360 to prove its thesis as it continues to build out a suite of services running the gamut from chronic care management to behavioral healthcare and urgent and primary care needs.
Digital primary care has seen growing interest amid COVID-19, as the pandemic highlighted the importance of constraining healthcare costs without restricting access to care. Payers and employers have especially been active in the arena lately, resulting in rising deals and investments.
Startups offering primary care brought in the second-most funding of all digital health startups in the first quarter of 2021, according to Rock Health. The past few months alone have seen a handful of high-profile deals.
In April, health benefits platform Accolade signed a definitive agreement to acquire virtual primary care company PlushCare for $450 million, while in August, J.P. Morgan's health-focused venture arm Morgan Health invested $50 million in value-based primary care model Vera Whole Health.