Direct Primary Care includes Advanced Telemedicine
Telemedicine—AKA doctors talking to patients on the telephone—has long been touted as a standalone service that employers can offer employees as a health benefit. Historically, employee adoption of telemedicine has been abysmally low—on the order of 10 percent. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the unprecedented degree to which we’re all socially isolating ourselves, the use of telemedicine has become an important means by which patients can receive care. But not all telemedicine is created equal.
To use telemedicine as a standalone tool outside the context of an established doctor-patient relationship is like eating butter without bread. The best medical outcomes are achieved only when a patient and physician establish a trusting relationship. At ImagineMD, we practice advanced telemedicine—telemedicine that sits on top of highly personal relationships that our physicians have built with their patients over time. Only in the context of such relationships does telemedicine achieve its full potential. Advanced telemedicine at ImagineMD occurs in the context of an intimate doctor-patient relationship, which can only be created with extended in-person visits, the kind that only occurs in a direct primary care practice like ImagineMD where first visits run two hours and return visits run an hour. During these extended visits, ImagineMD physicians get to know their patients and their medical histories—and ImagineMD patients get to know their ImagineMD physicians—in a way that just isn’t possible in traditional fee-for-service medicine, where initial visits last only 20-30 minutes at most.
Further, because each patient’s ImagineMD physician is available to him or her 24/7, when a telemedicine encounter occurs, patients are talking to their own ImagineMD physician, not a nurse on call or another doctor on call whom they don’t know. So when patients call with an issue, they’re going to talk to a physician who knows them and their medical history intimately. This direct link with a patient’s own physician optimizes medical outcomes.
In fact, telemedicine even occurs when patients call ImagineMD to schedule an appointment. Because when patients call to make an appointment, they’re not calling a front-desk scheduler. They’re calling their ImagineMD physician directly. We’ve found that approximately 30 percent of the time when a patient calls to request an appointment, an in-person visit isn’t actually necessary. This is because the patient’s physician knows him or her well and has the necessary time to spend with them on the phone to ferret out their complaint, so the issue can get resolved on the phone.
Because ImagineMD physicians have deep, trusting relationships with their patients, they’re uniquely positioned to practice advanced telemedicine, calming nerves and helping to guide patients through specific health issues. As an added benefit, this prevents unnecessary ER visits at a moment when our healthcare system is about to become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients. Through advanced telemedicine, we’re able to care for our patients at the right time, in the right place, with a thorough knowledge of a patient’s history, yielding the best possible outcome even in the absence of an in-person visit.