Virtual Primary Care vs. Traditional Telemedicine

February 15, 2022

First Stop Health

Virtual primary care is different than traditional telemedicine in 5 ways. 

Virtual primary care offers scheduled appointments with the same doctor. 

Virtual primary care allows a patient to establish a relationship with a primary care physician. Patients can see a virtual primary care doctor of their choosing and continue to schedule appointments with that same doctor.  

Conversely in traditional telemedicine, patients have unscheduled visits with a different provider every time. There is no continuity and no relationship is formed. 

Virtual primary care offers visits chronic and preventive care.  

Virtual primary care allows a patient to see a doctor for chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. Often the diagnosis and treatment of chronic disease requires lab tests, where a patient’s blood must be drawn in person.

Virtual primary care doctors can order blood tests from over 4,000 free-standing labs across the country. The order is sent electronically so no hardcopy lab form is required. The lab results are automatically sent back to the virtual primary care doctor’s electronic medical record system so the doctor can contact the patient, discuss the results and arrange any necessary treatment. 

Traditional telemedicine does not order lab tests and therefore cannot perform chronic care and preventive care. 

Virtual primary care reduces the main drivers of high-cost claims: 1) Musculoskeletal Conditions, 2) Cardiovascular Disease, 3) Cancer. 

50% of healthcare costs are generated by 5% of a group’s members. Similarly, 80% of healthcare costs are generated by 20% of a group’s members. These members typically have more than $50,000 or $100,000 in healthcare costs per year. Their healthcare costs are usually related to three diagnostic categories: 1) musculoskeletal conditions, 2) cardiovascular disease and 3) cancer. 

The best way to reduce the severity or even eliminate these high healthcare costs is with primary care. A study from the Journal of Family Practice found that patients who regularly received care from a primary care physician had 33% lower healthcare costs.1 Primary care physicians treat osteoarthritis to prevent major orthopedic surgeries and diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol to decrease the risk of heart disease. They also coordinate cancer screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopies to catch types of cancer early and even remove pre-cancerous lesions. 

Traditional telemedicine does not address these drivers of high-cost claims. 

Virtual primary care provides care coordination.  

Virtual primary care doctors refer patients to specialist care when needed. For example, if a patient has an abnormal mole that may require a biopsy, the virtual primary care doctor will refer the patient to a dermatologist. That specialist referral will be screened in advance for cost, quality, being in-network, at a location that is convenient for the patient and having appointment availability soon. Additionally, virtual primary care practices communicate with the specialist's office to determine the clinical course of action, if any medications were prescribed and next steps. 

Traditional telemedicine does not perform care coordination and communication with specialists. 

Virtual primary care allows doctors to counsel patients on behavior modification.  

Virtual Primary Care allows the doctor and patient to have recurring visits to address lifestyle circumstances and choices that may adversely affect the patient’s health. For example, obesity, diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol are all diseases that require a combination of behavior change and often medication to treat.  

Behavioral counseling by a doctor can be powerful. A study in the Mayo Clinic review found that “patients receiving behavioral counseling lost more than 8% of body weight during the first year and, at year 8, 50% of patients maintained a 5% or more loss.” This behavioral counseling occurs over multiple visits with a doctor who forms a relationship with the patient. 

Traditional telemedicine does not offer continuous behavioral counseling with the same doctor. 

Virtual primary care offers an expanded scope of services compared to traditional telemedicine that is beneficial for patient health and reduces healthcare financial burden. 



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Originally published Feb 15, 2022 1:45:00 PM.