What Conditions Can Virtual Primary Care Diagnose?
March 1, 2022
Dr. Eric Bricker
There is a wide range of medical conditions that virtual primary care can diagnose and treat.
Hypertension is one of the leading causes of heart disease and stroke. It can also cause kidney failure and blindness. Hypertension can be diagnosed with a home blood pressure cuff or automatic home blood pressure monitors, which are affordable and easy-to-use.
Once a diagnosis of hypertension is made, virtual primary care doctors can effectively treat it with low-cost, generic medications that have minimal side effects. Interestingly, most people with hypertension require 2 or more medications to control their blood pressure. The key is to keep up with it.
Diabetes is also a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Additionally, it is the number one cause of kidney failure and blindness in America, and can cause painful neuropathy and non-healing foot ulcers that may lead to amputations.
Diabetes can be diagnosed with a blood glucose test performed at a lab, in which virtual primary care physicians can electronically order this test so the patient can go in-person to a local, in-network lab to have their blood drawn. The lab results then automatically flow to the electronic medical record (EMR) of the virtual primary care physicians.
Diabetes provides a fitting example of virtual primary care working in conjunction with in-person testing. Diabetes needs to be monitored every 3 to 6 months via a recurrent blood test called Hemoglobin A1c.
Treatment for the most common type of diabetes — Type II Diabetes — is typically done with safe and effective generic medications such as metformin, glipizide and glyburide. There are also many additional medications that can be added to a patient’s regimen if necessary.
Counseling on diet, exercise and weight-loss is a key component to managing diabetes. Virtual primary care is a fantastic way to accomplish this counseling because it can be done with longer and more frequent visits performed virtually.
High cholesterol is yet another risk factor for heart disease. Approximately 1 in 8 adults have high cholesterol and, unfortunately, only about 50% of those are taking medication to lower their cholesterol and decrease their risk of heart disease.
High cholesterol is diagnosed by a blood test which a virtual primary care physician can electronically order like the diabetes test above. The patient can go in person to a local, in-network lab to have the test.
Once diagnosed, high cholesterol is often treated with a class of medications called ‘statins.’ Examples of statin medications are Lipitor and Crestor, both of which are available as low-cost generics. A patient on statin medications must have their liver function tested periodically via another blood test, which can be taken care of by virtual primary care physicians.
Like diabetes, diet and exercise are also important components of treating high cholesterol. Virtual primary care physicians use video and phone visits to counsel patients on behavioral changes to lower cholesterol and improve health.
1 in 12 US adults suffer from depression. Unfortunately, anxiety is even more common, afflicting 18% of US adults. Virtual primary care physicians can diagnose and treat depression and anxiety through virtual visits. In fact, screening for depression with a questionnaire is part of the recommended screenings from the US Preventive Services Task Force.
Once a diagnosis of depression or anxiety is made, there are many safe and effective medication treatments that can be used in conjunction with counseling. One class of medications is called SSRIs and includes common medications such as Prozac and Zoloft, both of which are now available in generic form. Another class of medications used to treat depression and anxiety is called SNRIs and includes medications such as Effexor and Cymbalta, both of with are also available as generics.
These medications are safe, effective and have brought help to millions of Americans.
Treating depression and anxiety is especially important for people who also have chronic medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. It is challenging for anyone dealing with depression or anxiety to take care of their other medical conditions. To improve a patient’s hypertension and diabetes, the virtual primary care doctors address the mind and the body together because medical conditions are interconnected and must be treated holistically.
Osteoarthritis causes joint pain typically in the knees, hips, low-back and hands. It is caused by ‘wear-and-tear’ on the joints. 16 million US adults under the age of 65 have osteoarthritis. If left untreated, osteoarthritis can lead to a significant decline in mobility and potentially result in the need for a joint replacement or spine surgery.
Treatment for osteoarthritis includes non-narcotic pain medication, physical therapy and weight loss. Virtual primary care physicians can prescribe non-narcotic pain medication and make referrals to in-person physical therapy. Many employers even offer musculoskeletal clinical programs or ‘point solutions’ that are free to health plan members. Virtual primary care is a terrific way to identify those patients who would benefit from these programs and physicians can refer patients to these programs, increasing their utilization.
1 in 5US adults suffers from GERD. Heartburn can be very painful and distressing. Fortunately, GERD can be diagnosed virtually by the virtual primary care physician. GERD is treated with a trial of medications called Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs). Examples of PPIs include Prilosec and Protonix, both of which are available as generics.
Treating GERD is important since untreated GERD can occasionally develop into a more serious condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which is a significant risk factor for esophageal cancer.
Treating the above chronic conditions with virtual primary care is important because it can decrease the risk of major health problems like heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, dialysis, amputations, major joint surgery and cancer.
Many employer health plans have members who do not see a primary care physician and are missing being treated for these chronic conditions resulting in many high-cost claims for employers. Virtual primary care helps solve these problems by expanding access and limiting the number of frequent in-person visits that these conditions require Plus, virtual primary care reduces the number of high-cost claims for major health events caused by the conditions listed above.