Virtual primary care: A new era of telemedicine

Reviewed by:
Dr. Robert Kwok
Director of Health Informatics
Last updated on September 13, 2023 UTC

Heading into the doctor once a year for a physical is crucial, but what if it was possible to do that visit online without leaving the house? Thousands of people across the US are embracing virtual primary care though apps like HealthTap, ushering in a new era of medicine that brings effective, high-quality healthcare to the patient. 

The benefits of using telehealth to perform these visits are significant, and making the shift isn’t as difficult as many people think (even for the less tech-savvy out there). 

A brief history of telemedicine

Telemedicine hit its stride during the pandemic, and a new generation of people discovered how beneficial virtual primary care can be. However, because more people know about telemedicine now doesn’t mean it’s new to healthcare.

The ability to use technology to help assess and manage patients is actually more than 100 years old. As technology progressed, so did the technological mediums healthcare providers could use to give their patients holistic, effective care. 

While early telemedicine providers used radios to monitor their patients, they can now use smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Instead of relying on what the patient is telling them and what they hear, telehealth providers can also visually assess a patient. 

Other than being able to physically touch or listen to a patient’s heart and lungs, virtual primary care through platforms like HealthTap offers the same quality comprehensive healthcare services as visiting a doctor in person would.

As telemedicine continues getting increasingly popular, insurance companies are also catching up in how they cover these services. However, not every insurance company covers telehealth the same, so it’s crucial that patients check their coverage before scheduling. 

For most people, the cost of a telehealth visit is about the same as the copay they would pay for an out-of-network provider. In fact, many people find telemedicine fits into their budget the same (if not better) than seeing an in-person provider.

Telemedicine and chronic care

Telehealth through HealthTap is beneficial for many reasons, but one of the most significant benefits is how providers manage patients with chronic diseases. According to the CDC, six in every 10 adults in the United States deal with a chronic health condition, and four out of 10 have two or more. 

Virtual primary care makes it far easier for these patients to manage their conditions, whether they’ve been diagnosed with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, asthma, and other illnesses. The added benefit is that patients with a compromised immune system as a side effect of their health issues can stay safely in their homes and not be exposed to unnecessary germs.

Managing chronic conditions virtually also helps make care more accessible for patients who can’t drive or don’t have a reliable way to make it to the office. Chronic diseases often require more follow-up than patients without them, and the ability to do this online can help guarantee that patients are at a higher risk for complications.

What else can a virtual primary care provider do?

In addition to managing chronic diseases, there are a variety of other healthcare services that our doctors can safely offer. 

The most common reason patients schedule virtual primary care appointments is for preventive care. Seeing a doctor once a year to discuss ways to stay healthy is one of the best ways to prevent both acute and chronic disease before it starts. 

Virtual primary care providers can also perform the following services:

  • Dietary and nutritional guidance.
  • Evaluating acute concerns like cough, fever, etc.
  • Health screenings.
  • Oral contraceptive management.
  • Ordering and interpreting lab tests.
  • Managing and refilling medications.
  • Mental health assessment and management.
  • Sexual health guidance.

Patients who need more specialized care won’t miss out by seeing a virtual primary care provider, either. Many of these providers also specialize in other branches of medicine — pediatrics, men’s and women’s health, senior care or travel care. 

Choosing a provider experienced in the type of care a patient needs is also easier when using telehealth through HealthTap, as they can sort through the available choices until they find one that fits their needs.

What about new patients?

Virtual primary care isn’t just for pre-existing patients; new patients can also take advantage of telehealth services as long as they qualify.

New patient appointments are usually a little longer than other visits, as our doctors want to be as thorough as possible when establishing a relationship with a new patient. These appointments usually include taking a complete health history, including any significant family history, and discussing current medical diagnoses. 

HealthTap’s doctors will also assess for new health concerns and review the medications the patient is taking to verify that they can manage them. After establishing, patients can follow up with their telehealth doctor by email or text message. The ability to communicate with their doctors fosters that all-important feeling of trust that is crucial to increasing positive health outcomes.

Is there anything a virtual primary care provider can’t do?

There are some limitations to the healthcare services a virtual care provider can safely and legally provide, which is essential for potential patients to know beforehand so they can get the care they need.

The biggest difference between an in-office primary care provider and a HealthTap doctor is that prescribing controlled medications (like Adderall, Norco, Xanax etc.) isn’t something that we can do via telehealth. Patients who need these medications should schedule an appointment with an in-office provider.

There are also a handful of medical conditions and situations that can’t be safely managed virtually. Patients should discuss their health conditions with their doctor at their new patient appointment to verify they qualify for virtual care, as our doctors can’t manage certain mental health concerns, health conditions (ADHD, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia) and transgender hormone care (among others). 

The other difference between telehealth and in-person care is in treating acute issues. Telemedicine is just as effective at treating mild to moderately acute health concerns, like congestion, cough, diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting and urinary tract infections. 

However, patients experiencing more severe symptoms — especially chest pain, severe burns and symptoms of a stroke — should always be seen in person at their nearest emergency department.


More articles in Telehealth

Not just a doctor —
your doctor