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How an innovative approach to virtual care reduces costs and improves outcomes

By Jessie Donaho, Senior Director of Care Solutions  | February 15, 2023 | 5 min read

Rising prices have caused millions of people to rethink how much they spend at checkout counters and gas pumps. Those ballooning totals on their receipts may also be causing Americans to delay healthcare, defer treatments and postpone doctor appointments. A Gallup poll found that nearly four in 10 people have put off or avoided medical care or prescription drug purchases because of the costs. [1]  

The likelihood of deferring healthcare can be even greater when a person doesn’t have an appropriate primary care provider (PCP) relationship. The most often cited hurdle is access.  A Kaiser Family Foundation survey discovered that 26% of all adults, and 45% of adults under 30, don’t have a PCP. [2] Not only do millions of people not have a PCP that they visit regularly, but millions of others don’t have access to a provider. [3] The Health Resources and Services Administration reported that 65 million people — about twice the population of California — live in regions without adequate primary care. [4]

Existing primary care models have limitations 

Access to adequate primary care is not just an issue for people living in rural areas.  Even people with providers in their geographic area have PCP challenges that make it difficult to receive comprehensive care. [5] For instance, many primary care practices are over-burdened and do not have availability in a reasonable timeframe, can’t provide an appointment at a time that works for the patient or don’t have a diverse set of doctors to meet language needs or gender and racial preferences. Moreover, even when people have access and can visit a PCP, they can have ineffective experiences. Some don’t see their provider as often as they’d like or as often as they should to manage chronic conditions properly.  Others may need care coordination between visits, but their PCP, as is the case with most practices, can't extend care and support outside of formal appointments.  

The result is that people get less care, they face fragmented healthcare experiences — from PCP and mental health to specialty care visits — and have less-than-optimal outcomes. These circumstances lead to poor health outcomes, frustrating patient experience, productivity losses and higher healthcare costs. 

Employers are searching for ways to control spend 

Of course, employers aren't standing by idly while expenses continue to grow. Research shows nearly two-thirds of employers will address affordability over the next two years. [6] Those employers are focused on Advanced Primary Care strategies. According to a Willis Towers Watson 2022 Emerging Trends in Healthcare Survey, 60% of large employers will have at least one Advanced Primary Care strategy in place in 2023. [6] These include PCP-centered solutions like Accountable Care Organizations, high performance networks and patient-centered medical homes. Fundamentally, these Advanced Primary Care solutions focus on providing comprehensive, high-quality care to patients rather than conforming to the time and resource constraints of a typical primary care model. 

Still, employers need to consider how to deploy an Advanced Primary Care strategy in an equitable way across their organization. Some existing solutions, like high performance networks or ACOs, are localized, narrow solutions that may not be available across an employer’s organization, which can contribute to healthcare inequities. Employers can meet their employees’ evolving healthcare needs by offering an Advanced Primary Care practice that is deployed virtually and available equitably across a national or local population. With this strategy as part of its benefits offering, an employer can give employees the comprehensive, integrated primary care they want, provide the support their employees need to stay healthy and productive — when and where they want it — and reduce costs. 

Integrated care improves efficiency and convenience 

Advanced Primary Care is a holistic approach that gives employees more than just a PCP. It also supplies a coordinated team that is part of a complete, personalized healthcare experience. Accolade Care is Advanced Primary Care that goes even further by integrating mental health and supplying a foundation of data that creates a proactive, personalized care pathway. Furthermore, Accolade Care is deployed virtually to give employees convenient, equitable access.  

With Advanced Primary Care and integrated mental health, employees get a care team that includes a virtual PCP, health coach, nurse, therapist and psychiatrist. This integrated behavioral health approach helps remove geographic limitations and the potential stigma associated with seeking such services in person. The American Psychological Association reports that virtual interventions work for a variety of problems and populations and can be just as effective as face-to-face psychotherapy when treating people with depression or other forms of mental illness. [7] 

In short, employees get connected, whole-person care that guides them along their healthcare journey in a satisfying, cost-effective way. It also makes care accessible to the largest number of people — regardless of what they look like, how they identify, where they are located or when they have time to get care. The result is that employees engage with their healthcare providers more regularly, improving long term outcomes and reducing healthcare costs. 

A strategy that is comprehensive with high satisfaction 

Most people who have used virtual primary care (94%) are satisfied with their experience, and nearly four in five (79%) say it has allowed them to take charge of their health. [8] It’s a positive member experience that builds trust and a relationship that enables improved clinical outcomes. Accolade Care patients see material impacts, including controlled blood pressure among 72% of hypertensive patients, compared to national averages around 50%, and reduced depression severity among 68% of screened members. [9] With Accolade Care, employees get access to comprehensive, equitable healthcare that fits their unique needs — from preventive care visits and chronic care needs to targeted engagement and care guidance. 

Accolade’s approach to patient care increases engagement, improves care journeys, empowers employees to use their benefits and helps people make choices that promote healthier, longer lives. It improves patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes, while reducing overall healthcare spending. Contact us to learn more about how our Advanced Primary Care model delivered virtually can enable optimal outcomes for your employees and your business.  

[1] https://news.gallup.com/poll/395126/four-americans-cut-spending-cover-healthcare-costs.aspx

[2] https://www.kff.org/other/slide/one-fourth-of-adults-and-nearly-half-of-adults-under-30-dont-have-a-primary-care-doctor/

[3] https://www.americanprogress.org/article/how-states-can-expand-health-care-access-in-rural-communities/

[4] https://www.goodrx.com/healthcare-access/research/healthcare-deserts-80-percent-of-country-lacks-adequate-healthcare-access

[5] https://cohealthinitiative.org/articles/the-waiting-game-the-effect-of-appointment-availability/

[6] https://www.wtwco.com/en-US/Insights/2022/05/infographic-employers-move-to-tackle-healthcare-affordability

[7] https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/07/cover-telepsychology

[8] https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20221101005204/en/Nearly-Four-in-Five-Americans-Who-Have-Used-Virtual-Primary-Care-Say-It-Helped-Them-Take-Charge-of-Their-Health

[9] Accolade member results reported via PHQ-9 and GAD7 

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