Wellness

What Is Virtual Primary Care?

Ashley Brooks14 Dec 2021

Virtual primary care is a way to visit a primary care physician through home-based telemedicine. Virtual primary care reduces barriers in access to preventative care for those with transportation challenges or lack of insurance. 

Mira offers an affordable option for access to virtual primary care. Copays for virtual care with Mira are just $5, with monthly memberships averaging between $25 to $60. Members have access to virtual or in-person urgent care, telebehavioral health, virtual primary care, and significant discounts on prescriptions and lab screenings. Join today!

What Is Virtual Primary Care?

Virtual primary care has emerged as a solution for bringing healthcare closer to home and a way to close the gap in a growing primary care doctor shortage. Patients can visit doctors and build relationships with their providers over the phone or computer to maintain their health with ease and efficiency. 

With regular primary care, providers can identify health problems early on and intervene before serious and costly issues arise. A Harvard study found that one in five Americans delayed healthcare during the pandemic, resulting in 57 percent adverse health consequences. Virtual primary care also saves considerable out-of-office time. The average office visit takes about 121 minutes, including drive time, yet a telehealth visit averages 20 minutes and can be completed outside regular business hours.

Primary care providers play an essential role in helping patients manage chronic diseases and improve health outcomes. Primary care is considered primary prevention and can help reduce healthcare expenditures. A study found that every $1 spent toward primary care yielded $13 in savings concerning fewer emergency department visits and hospitalizations.

When To Use Virtual Primary Care

Virtual primary care is a form of telemedicine that can be used for a wide variety of health services. Virtual care can be used for minor and chronic medical conditions and managing mental health concerns. Virtual care is not recommended for emergency treatment.

Here’s a shortlist of common conditions a primary care doctor may treat via telemedicine:

  • Allergies
  • Arthritic Pain
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Colds and Flu
  • Diarrhea
  • Infections
  • Insect Bites
  • Rashes
  • Respiratory Infections
  • Skin Inflammation
  • Sore Throats
  • Sprains & Strains
  • Bladder Infections
  • UTIs
  • Sports Injuries
  • Nausea Vomiting
  • Headaches and Migraines
  • Birth Control

Who Offers Virtual Primary Care

Several private in-person facilities have added virtual care options for their patients. A number of online platforms specializing in offering virtual care to patients around the country have also gained popularity as they do not require health insurance to have affordable healthcare visits and often include 24/7 access. Below are a few service providers of virtual primary care. 

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Amwell

Amwell is another virtual care platform that offers virtual primary care in addition to other telemedicine services. The cost of a doctor visit using Amwell without insurance is $79 but can be used for Medicare Advantage members, Blue plans, and even UnitedHealthcare, to name a few.  Amwell offers a wide array of virtual care services such as: 

  • Urgent Care
  • Scheduled Visits
  • Acute Behavioral Health
  • Telestroke
  • Pediatrics
  • Virtual Primary Care
  • Behavioral Health
  • Nutrition
  • Second Opinion

Teledoc

Primary360, a service provided by Teledoc, is a virtual primary care service. Without insurance, a general medicine visit is just $75 but does not offer transparency on the cost of additional types of services unless you register. Children have access to a pediatrician 24/7 for non-emergency conditions like cold & flu, allergies, pink eye, stomachache, and more. Teladoc works with many Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care plans but does not specify which health insurance providers they work with. 

Doctor On Demand

Doctor On Demand treats urgent care, primary care, and mental health needs. Doctor on Demand accepts Medicare and other insurance providers. You can even have a visit while traveling internationally, but your clinician will only be able to provide advice and cannot offer prescriptions. The price is $75 for a 15 min consultation with a board-certified clinician but can cost up to $299 for a 45-minute consultation with a psychiatrist. 

HealthTap

HealthTap is a $39 per month subscription service for access to telemedicine services. With HealthTap, members access ​​24/7 Urgent Care, primary care, and telebehavioral health with their partner, Talkspace. Members can also search from millions of trusted answers from 90,000 U.S. doctors across 147 specialties or anonymously ask their health questions to get medical answers within 24 hours. Care for all your children is included at no additional membership cost.

Mira

Mira has recently added virtual primary care to its service offerings in addition to affordable access to in-person urgent care. Mira’s virtual care options also include telebehavioral health and in-person urgent care. 

For just a $5 copay, members have access to wellness screenings, management of health conditions, lab results, and prescription refills. Should there be prescriptions or lab screenings ordered due to the visit, a Mira membership can offer up to 80 percent discounted rates on these additional services. Memberships are available for individuals and families, and even employers.

Virtual Primary Care Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

If you are evaluating whether virtual primary care is suitable for your medical needs, consider the following questions.

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Do I need to have insurance for virtual primary care?

It depends on the provider you see as to whether your virtual care visit will require insurance. If you already have a primary care physician that has added virtual care to their services, they will likely continue to take your insurance. Many private primary care facilities that offer virtual care may also have self-pay rates for uninsured patients. Keep in mind that if you go through a private primary care physician, they may require an in-person visit before offering virtual care. If you are utilizing a virtual care provider specifically from a virtual care platform such as through Amwell or 

Can doctors prescribe with virtual primary care?

Most virtual primary care providers can prescribe during virtual primary care appointments but cannot write prescriptions for controlled substances such as codeine or oxycodone. To prescribe, the clinician must have licensure to prescribe in the state you are located. If you are calling in internationally, the clinician will only offer medical advice and cannot write a script. If you require medication classified as a controlled substance, you should see a doctor in person.

What services are not provided by virtual primary care?

Serious emergencies should not be treated virtually and might require immediate medical intervention such as visits that would require additional screening with equipment to check severe conditions or abnormalities. Some examples of conditions that may require an in-person visit instead of telemedicine include: 

  • Seizures
  • Chest pain
  • Neurological symptoms, suggesting a stroke
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or loss of consciousness
  • Sudden bleeding
  • Choking or gagging
  • Severe Hypertension or Hemorrhoids
  • Head injury
  • Possible broken bones
  • Cancer
  • Patients who want to hurt themselves (suicidal)
  • Patients who want to hurt others (homicidal)
  • Schizophrenia or hallucinations

What are the limitations of virtual care and telemedicine?

While beneficial in many cases, according to the CDC, some potential limitations of telemedicine include the following: 

  • Interstate licensure challenges and other regulatory issues that may vary by state
  • Situations in which in-person visits are more appropriate due to urgency, underlying health conditions, or inability to perform an adequate physical exam
  • The need to address sensitive topics, especially if there is patient discomfort or concern for privacy
  • Limited access to technological devices (e.g., smartphone, tablet, computer) needed for a telehealth visit or connectivity issues
  • Level of comfort with technology for healthcare providers and patients
  • Cultural acceptance of conducting virtual visits instead of in-person visits

Bottom Line

Virtual primary care brings primary care services to your home through a video screen or phone call. Virtual care can help reduce long waiting periods to get an appointment at a doctor’s office and even eliminate time wasted on a commute or time taken off from work to visit the doctor during regular business hours. Engaging in primary care improves help outcomes through earlier detection. Still, the uptick in virtual care options makes access to primary care more feasible and affordable for those without health insurance.