MDLive’s primary care push captured disengaged patients—but perhaps not for much longer

The news: Cigna-owned telehealth firm MDLive released new data on its virtual primary care program, which first launched in January 2020, and now covers over 15 million members. The data shows how its virtual primary care program was able to capture patients who were otherwise not engaged in primary care:

  • 70% of its preventative care patients said they didn't have a primary care visit in the 24 months prior to enrolling in MDLive’s program.
  • Less than 25% of patients reported having a consistent primary care provider.
  • And 68% of patients in the program had at least one chronic disease.

Why it’s worth watching: Primary care took a hard hit during the pandemic, and virtual care has done a good job plugging in some holes in provider revenues.

  • As of late September 2020, fewer than one-third of US primary care practices reported patient volumes within 10% of pre-pandemic levels, per the Primary Care Collaborative.
  • Telehealth-enabled primary care has been helping, and it’s even helped to reach new patients due to its convenience, accessibility, and affordability. For example, MDLive’s data also reported that 38% of its virtual primary care visits occurred outside of usual primary care office hours.

The trend: More and more digital health players are gaining traction in the US primary care space on the back of the pandemic:

  • In March, primary care startup Crossover Health secured $168 million in a funding haul led by the likes of Amazon and LinkedIn. The company says it can help lower employers' healthcare costs by 15% via investing upfront in primary care services.
  • Primary care startup Forward Health, which boasts a flat fee for service and tech-driven personalized care, scored a massive $225 million funding haul in March.
  • Digital pharmacy startups Truepill expanded into virtual primary care in May, and is now operating around 50,000 primary care telehealth visits per week.
  • And telehealth giants Teladoc and Amwell both saw demand for their virtual primary care services skyrocket amid the pandemic, according to the American Hospital Association.

The problem: Beyond the impacts of the pandemic, virtual primary care has the potential to address the growing shortage of primary care providers and combat rising healthcare spending—but virtual primary care alone is not sustainable long-term.

Most consumers say they prefer in-person visits post pandemic, according to a recent Kyruus survey of 1,000 US adults. Moreover, telehealth claims have dropped off as vaccination rates picked up—which means consumers will likely be more inclined to opt for in-person and hybrid care options.