Make telemedicine your first choice for most doctor visits. That’s the message some U.S. employers and insurers are sending with a new wave of care options.

Amazon and several insurers have started or expanded virtual-first care plans to get people to use telemedicine routinely, even for planned visits like annual checkups. They’re trying to make it easier for patients to connect with regular help by using remote care that grew explosively during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advocates say this can keep patients healthy and out of expensive hospitals, which makes insurers and employers that pay most of the bill happy.

But some doctors worry that it might create an over-reliance on virtual visits.

“There is a lot lost when there is no personal touch, at least once in a while,” said Dr. Andrew Carroll, an Arizona-based family doctor and board member of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Telemedicine involves seeing a doctor or nurse from afar, often through a secure video connection. It has been around for years and was growing even before the pandemic. But patients often had a tough time connecting with a regular doctor who knew them.

Virtual-first primary care attempts to smooth that complication.

The particulars of these programs can vary, but the basic idea is to give people regular access to a care team that knows them. That team may include a doctor, nurse or physician assistant, who may not be in the same state as the patient. Patients can also message or email the caregivers with a quick question in addition to connecting on a video call.

People who choose this option may have to give up a doctor they’ve been seeing in person. They also will need a smartphone, tablet or computer paired with a fast internet hookup.

The goal of the virtual-first approach is to make patients feel more connected to their health and less reliant on Google searches for advice or the nearest urgent care center to treat something minor.

“We have a large portion of the population that is avoiding going to a primary care doctor because they don’t have time or they think they can’t afford it, even though its generally covered under their benefits,” said Arielle Trzcinski, a health care analyst with Forrester who works with insurers.

Amazon Care pairs patients with a regular care team and in some markets also sends providers like nurses to them if they need in-person care. The retailer developed the program for its employees but said in March that it would expand it to other employers nationwide.

Insurers like Oscar Health, UnitedHealthcare and Kaiser Permanente also have started or expanded virtual-first care plans this year. Priority Health in Michigan began selling a plan for people without employer-sponsored coverage after the insurer noticed that customers weren’t visiting doctors as much as they expected.

A vice president, Carrie Kincaid, said Priority Health found that some customers didn’t have time to leave work for appointments. Another group, early retirees, travels frequently and isn’t able to make it back to Michigan for in-person visits.

She said the new plan, run with virtual care provider Doctor on Demand, blew past enrollment projections and had more than 5,000 people signed up on the first day.

“When members get exposed to virtual care in general, they really, really like it,” she said.

Wendy Katje signed up for a Priority Health virtual-first primary care plan by accident online, but she plans to stick with it.

The 60-year-old multiple sclerosis patient said the doctor she got through the program has helped adjust her cholesterol medications and made sure she stays connected with a neurologist she usually sees in person.

Katje said the virtual-first approach makes sense during the pandemic, when she wants to avoid waiting rooms.

“It’s not quite as personal as sitting in an office with someone, but for what I’ve needed to have done it was perfectly adequate,” the Otsego, Michigan, resident said.

Walter Woodberry, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, signed up for a virtual-first plan through his employer, ABF Freight, after he tried telehealth and grew used to its convenience.

He said he doesn’t have to leave work early for an appointment, and he feels more comfortable giving medical information to someone who knows him.

“I’m not trying to schedule my life around a doctor’s appointment,” he said.

Consumers have grown used to shopping for clothes, gifts or groceries online. But Carroll, the family physician, noted that patients sometimes need an in-person visit.

He said he once had a patient diagnosed virtually with pink eye. In person, Carroll could see that the patient actually had a form of glaucoma and was in danger of blindness.

Doctors are still sorting out what can be treated virtually and what demands in-person care. These new plans generally reserve those visits for emergencies or if the doctor or patient requests them.

Virtual-first proponents say they aren’t trying to eliminate in-person visits. They are focused on improving health.

Patients are more likely to follow a doctor’s orders, get laboratory tests or take prescribed medicine when they receive care from someone they’ve gotten to know and trust, said Doctor on Demand CEO Hill Ferguson.

“That’s what we need to get back to in this country,” he said.

Stanford University’s Dr. Megan Mahoney estimates that about half of primary care visits can be done virtually, depending on whether insurers and other payers reimburse for the care.

The family physician says her practice still does 30% to 40% of its visits virtually, months after reopening its offices. The pandemic has changed how patients view care, she said.

“We had made assumptions about consumers’ willingness to adopt telehealth, yet we see 89-year-olds who are on video visits with their providers every other week with no problem now,” she said.

Medical director of Doctor on Demand Dr. Vibin Roy speaks to a patient during an online primary care visit from his home, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Keller, Texas. Some U.S. employers and insurers want you to make telemedicine your first choice for most doctor visits. Retail giant Amazon and several insurers have started or expanded virtual-first care plans to get people thinking telemedicine routinely, even for annual checkups. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Medical director of Doctor on Demand Dr. Vibin Roy speaks to a patient during an online primary care visit from his home, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Keller, Texas. Some U.S. employers and insurers want you to make telemedicine your first choice for most doctor visits. Retail giant Amazon and several insurers have started or expanded virtual-first care plans to get people thinking telemedicine routinely, even for annual checkups. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Join the Conversation

10773 Comments

  1. whoah this blog is magnificent i love studying your articles.
    Stay up the good work! You realize, a lot of people are searching round for this information, you could help them greatly.

  2. can you buy robaxin over the counter in canada [url=http://robaxin.charity/]where to buy robaxin[/url] robaxin without prescription

  3. cheapest pharmacy for prescription drugs [url=https://cheaponlinepharmacy.online/]best online pharmacy for viagra[/url] canadian pharmacy 24h com

  4. canadian pharmacies not requiring prescription [url=http://pharmacyonline.wtf/]non prescription medicine pharmacy[/url] legal canadian pharmacy online

  5. colchicine buy online india [url=http://colchicinev.online/]colchicine 0.6 mg without prescription[/url] colchicine capsules

  6. I always double-check the label to make sure I’m giving my child the right dose of [url=https://furosemide.wiki/]generic furosemide[/url].

  7. buy hydrochlorothiazide 25 mg [url=http://hydrochlorothiazide.charity/]buy hydrochlorothiazide 25 mg[/url] where to buy hydrochlorothiazide 25 mg

  8. If the [url=http://lasixz.online/]Lasix 40 price[/url] keeps going up, I might have to stop taking it altogether.

  9. buy erythromycin without prescription [url=http://erythromycin.trade/]erythromycin 2 gel australia[/url] erythromycin 250 mg cost

  10. misoprostol pills for sale [url=https://cytotec.gives/]can you buy cytotec over the counter[/url] how to get misoprostol pills

  11. amoxicillin prescription online [url=https://amoxicillin.science/]can i buy amoxicillin over the counter nz[/url] amoxicillin 30 capsules

  12. buy finasteride 1mg india [url=http://fenosteride.online/]buy finasteride tablet india[/url] online pharmacy finasteride 1mg

  13. Discuss with your doctor if you experience any adverse reactions while taking the [url=http://allopurinol.party/]allopurinol brand name[/url].

  14. My doctor prescribed [url=http://synthroid.skin/]synthroid 0.15 mg[/url] specifically for my thyroid issues, and it’s been a game-changer.

  15. I don’t understand why there isn’t more accessibility for people who need to [url=http://synthroidmx.online/]buy generic Synthroid[/url].

  16. where to buy brand name lexapro [url=http://escitalopram.gives/]lexapro generic over the counter[/url] how to get lexapro prescription

  17. [url=https://alisinopril.com/]Lisinopril 12.5[/url] can interact with other medications, so be sure to inform your doctor of everything you’re taking.

  18. [url=http://metforminv.com/]Metformin tablets 1000 mg[/url] is not recommended for use in people with kidney disease or liver disease.

  19. prednisone 5 mg tablets [url=https://prednisonenr.com/]prednisone online australia[/url] buy prednisone 5mg canada

  20. Taking [url=https://synthroidmx.online/]Synthroid 125 mcg[/url] can help alleviate hypothyroidism symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, and sensitivity to cold.

  21. I’ve been to four different pharmacies and none of them have the [url=http://allopurinol.party/]generic for allopurinol[/url].

  22. generic dapoxetine online [url=https://avana.charity/]dapoxetine 60 mg online india[/url] dapoxetine 60 mg online purchase in india

  23. I’ve been searching online, but I can’t seem to find an answer to [url=http://clomidium.online/]how much is Clomid prescription[/url].

  24. Affordable healthcare is a top concern for many Americans, so finding a [url=http://synthroid.skin/]Synthroid cheap price[/url] can be a game-changer for those struggling with medication costs.

  25. dapoxetine 30 mg tablet india [url=http://dapoxetine.charity/]dapoxetine price usa[/url] buy dapoxetine 60 mg in india

  26. best online pharmacy reddit [url=http://cheaponlinepharmacy.online/]legit online pharmacy[/url] mexican online mail order pharmacy

  27. dexamethasone generic brand [url=https://dexamethasoner.com/]dexamethasone 4 tablet[/url] dexamethasone price south africa

  28. Thank God for the option to make [url=https://synthroid.skin/]synthroid online purchases[/url], it saves a lot of hassle and time for chronically ill patients like me!

  29. Patients with high levels of uric acid in their blood should consult their doctor before taking [url=https://allopurinol.party/]allopurinol without prescription[/url].

  30. Patients should consider joining prescription savings programs in order to lower the [url=https://clomid.africa/]Clomid price without insurance[/url].

  31. I feel like I’m wasting my money on [url=http://synthroid.skin/]levothyroxine synthroid[/url] because it’s not doing anything for me.

  32. Patients who [url=https://metforminv.com/]order metformin on line[/url] can save time and energy while ensuring they have access to the medication they need to manage their diabetes.

  33. [url=https://synthroid.skin/]Synthroid 137 mcg cost[/url] should not be a barrier to quality healthcare, and we are working to break down that barrier.

  34. I’m tired of wasting my time researching and trying to find legitimate sources for [url=https://synthroid.skin/]generic Synthroid online[/url].

  35. buy trazadone non generic on line without a prescription [url=http://trazodone.skin/]trazodone 300 mg tablet[/url] 50 mg of trazodone

  36. top online pharmacy [url=http://cheaponlinepharmacy.online/]cheap viagra online canadian pharmacy[/url] canadian online pharmacy no prescription

  37. [url=https://metforminv.com/]Metformin HCL 1000mg[/url] is an effective medication that can improve quality of life for those with diabetes.

  38. fluoxetine 10 mg tablet uk [url=https://fluoxetine.party/]fluoxetine 10 mg cost[/url] fluoxetine 20 mg tablet coupon

  39. The increasing availability of [url=http://metforminv.com/]metformin online India[/url] highlights the need for improved access to affordable medications.

  40. [url=http://cipro.gives/]Ciprofloxacin 500 mg[/url] is effective against a wide range of bacterial infections, including those that are resistant to other antibiotics.

  41. where to get amoxicillin over the counter [url=https://amoxicillin.science/]amoxicillin brand name in india[/url] amoxicillin 500mg buy online uk

  42. fluoxetine generic 200 mg [url=https://fluoxetine.party/]fluoxetine capsules brand name[/url] where to buy fluoxetine online

  43. I’m so glad I found this website – they have a great selection of [url=http://metforminr.online/]Metformin 500 mg no prescription[/url].

  44. online shopping pharmacy india [url=http://dynamicpharmacyhealth.online/]canadian pharmacy 1 internet online drugstore[/url] mail order pharmacy india

  45. vermox over the counter australia [url=https://vermoxr.com/]vermox online[/url] where can i buy vermox over the counter

  46. hydrochlorothiazide brand name in canada [url=http://hydrochlorothiazide.charity/]hydrochlorothiazide 37.5 mg[/url] hydrochlorothiazide 37.5 mg

  47. reputable canadian online pharmacies [url=https://pleasantspharmacy.online/]reputable canadian pharmacy[/url] online pharmacy uk

  48. Don’t let a lack of prescription stop you from accessing Clomid. [url=http://clomid.africa/]Buy Clomid no RX[/url] required from our reliable source.

  49. amoxicillin online no prescription [url=http://amoxicillin.science/]amoxicillin 10mg[/url] can you buy amoxicillin over the counter usa

  50. where can you buy proscar [url=http://proscar.foundation/]where to get proscar without prescription[/url] proscar 5mg

  51. how much is prednisone 20 mg [url=http://prednisonenr.com/]prednisone 1 mg daily[/url] prednisone 20mg prescription cost

  52. Compliance with the prescribing instructions provided with your [url=http://modafinil.africa/]online modafinil prescription[/url] is crucial for avoiding potential adverse reactions.

  53. I initially had reservations about trying [url=https://allopurinol.party/]generic allopurinol 100mg[/url], but it’s proven to be just as effective as the brand name.

  54. dapoxetine tablets south africa [url=http://dapoxetine.charity/]dapoxetine over the counter[/url] dapoxetine premature ejaculation

  55. 200 mg amitriptyline [url=http://amitriptyline.ink/]amitriptyline medication over the counter[/url] amitriptyline 50 mg cost

  56. online pharmacy in germany [url=http://pleasantspharmacy.online/]what’s the best online pharmacy[/url] best online pharmacy no prescription

  57. How long should I continue taking the [url=https://metforminv.com/]metformin brand name[/url] medication as recommended by my doctor?

  58. Don’t let a lack of prescription stop you from accessing Clomid. [url=https://clomid.africa/]Buy Clomid no RX[/url] required from our reliable source.

  59. Verify that the [url=http://cipro.gives/]cipro online pharmacy[/url] you choose has a clear and easy-to-understand return policy.

  60. Before starting [url=https://allopurinol.party/]allopurinol 10 mg[/url], tell your doctor about any allergies or health conditions you have.

  61. buy elimite online [url=http://permethrin.foundation/]elimite 5 cream over the counter[/url] permethrin cream for sale

  62. prednisone 60 mg daily [url=https://prednisonenr.com/]where can i buy prednisone over the counter uk[/url] prednisone 20mg

  63. diclofenac gel 100 g [url=http://diclofenac.foundation/]can i buy diclofenac over the counter in usa[/url] diclofenac 1 mg

  64. I wish the [url=https://clomidium.online/]clomid prices[/url] were more affordable so that everyone could have access to fertility treatment.

  65. generic elimite cream [url=http://permethrin.foundation/]can you buy elimite over the counter[/url] elimite otc price

  66. One of the most significant benefits of using [url=https://allopurinol.party/]generic allopurinol 100mg[/url] is the flexibility it provides in terms of dosage.

  67. dexamethasone online pharmacy [url=http://dexamethasoner.com/]20 mg dexamethasone[/url] can you buy dexamethasone over the counter