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Telehealth has proven its value for accessing care, particularly during the pandemic. Find out how it can continue to benefit consumers in a post-COVID world by checking out Harvard Pilgrim’s latest article. Read on here.

In 2019, only 11% of Americans were using telehealth. By May of 2020, that percentage jumped to 46%, in large part due to the pandemic. When comparing monthly medical claims reported year over year for the month of December alone, telehealth claims increased an estimated 2800%. Over the last year and for the foreseeable future, telehealth has moved front and center when it comes to health trends. While many providers are returning to in-person visits with patients for a number of services that were temporarily moved to virtual settings, telehealth has proven to be a viable method of helping consumers access and receive certain health support, and its widespread adoption suggests it is here to stay.

Here are three ways telehealth could impact the consumer experience, and the health market, post-pandemic:

1. Increasing primary care access and adoption

The U.S. is seeing a sharp decline in primary care visits—a trend that concerns health experts and has only been accelerated by the COVID-19 outbreak. The decline in the demand for primary care is partially driven by younger generations adopting different philosophies on how to manage their health and well-being. A recent poll found 45% of individuals, aged 18 to 29, said they did not have a primary care physician (PCP).

But while the adoption of PCPs is seeing a decline, the benefits of having one remain consistent. Building and maintaining a patient-doctor relationship can also have long-term benefits, particularly with chronic illness. In one study, patients who experienced a major health event like cardiovascular disease and who had a positive experience with their PCP had a 40 to 50% lower risk of mortality in the next decade compared to those who did not.

While COVID-19 may have exacerbated the drop in primary care, it has also created a rapid shift toward innovative, patient-centric solutions. Telehealth previously faced many barriers, but with a rapid rise in demand during quarantine, health systems and insurers took fast action. This shift may also result in a more patient-centric system, which no longer requires face-to-face visits in an office setting for many of the services related to preventive care that are typically accessed through a PCP.

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care’s innovative SimplyVirtual HMO plan is an affordable alternative for its plan members who value telehealth’s flexibility, while also preserving the relationship-centered experience of having a PCP to help guide health decisions.

SimplyVirtual plan members can engage with PCPs and a dedicated care team through video, voice and in-app messaging 24/7 via the Doctor On Demand digital platform on their smartphone or computer. Preventive health, chronic care management, urgent care and integrated behavioral health are all provided through a seamless, virtual experience for patients while access to office-based care and referrals for services that cannot be completed virtually are also available. Harvard Pilgrim’s SimplyVirtual is currently offered in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine with plans to expand availability later this year.

3. Restoring care opportunities for remote areas

The CDC reports that people who live in rural areas of the U.S. are at a higher risk of dying prematurely from one of the leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke. Additionally, prior to the pandemic, 80% of rural America was medically underserved and rural hospitals were closing at an increased rate.

A fortunate outcome of the pandemic was much-needed financial aid and grants to help with challenges in infrastructure and technology. Now, remote areas can better meet patient demands, renew their focus on telemedicine services and restore access to care for the long term. The CDC, in particular, is helping to support telehealth projects across the country that improve access to chronic disease prevention and management programs, as well as specialist care.