In my last blog post I described the brisk emergence of virtual primary care and explained what it is, and what it isn’t, in comparison to traditional telemedicine. Virtual primary care is a convenient, accessible and cost-saving alternative to in-person primary care within employer-sponsored health plans. Since that last blog post, there’s been little slowdown of players entering the field, from the largest health insurers to digital startups and everything in between.
A recent survey by the Business Group on Health noted the anticipated growth of virtual primary care offerings, increasing from 32% in 2022 to 69% in 2025. It’s an exciting evolution, and the timing is perfect. Virtual primary care holds great promise well beyond today’s results as a solution for addressing spiraling healthcare costs, increasing the accessibility of quality primary care and resolving other barriers to care.
But with so many options and providers, it’s imperative for employers and the brokers who serve them to understand that not all virtual primary care providers are alike: much like in-office experiences vary, there’s an enormous variation in how virtual primary care is delivered, from episodic one-off consultations to truly integrated practices like Centivo Virtual Primary Care.
With so many players emerging, what does “great” virtual primary care look like? It may sound biased to say it looks like Centivo’s Virtual Primary Care practice – but that’s not just my opinion. Centivo recently received Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) Recognition by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). This prestigious credential demonstrates our practice aligns with NCQA’s mission to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the healthcare system.
Why is this recognition important? For any traditional practice, the PCMH model signifies that patients are at the forefront of care and recognizes certain high standards around access, communication, evidence-based decision making, care management and more. Because Centivo Virtual Primary Care is one of the very first virtual primary care practices to get this recognition, it’s a statement that virtual primary care can be as robust and effective as best-in-class in-person advanced primary care.
I can speak to some of the aspects of our practice we’re particularly proud of for raising the virtual primary care bar – components employers should look for if considering adding a virtual primary care (or “virtual first primary care”) component to a health plan offering.
1 – A laser focus on access
We built our virtual primary care practice around access as our fundamental principle. That means our providers are available and engaged when and where patients need us. For some patients, that means being able to schedule an appointment without having to take off work, travel or wait in an office. It also means being able to reach out with a text or in-app message and get a timely response from their doctor without an appointment.
Our Centivo Virtual Primary Care medical director, Dr. Jane Sailer, points out another invaluable aspect of patient-centered virtual primary care. “We sometimes see people who have been care-avoidant, who haven’t been seen by a doctor in years. If we can connect with these folks and build their trust, it’s an easy way for them to see a doctor and sometimes head off serious medical problems before they end up in a hospital as a first point of care.”
2 – Team-based, high-touch care
We designed our virtual primary care practice around the PCMH model, which emphasizes team-based care, communication and coordination. We built our virtual primary care practice as much like a popular community PCP office as possible: people who take the time to get to know patients personally and clinically, with a commitment to compassion and a culture of helpfulness and attentive, efficient problem solving.
While some virtual care providers make use of chatbots and artificial intelligence to quickly respond to current or would-be patients, the Centivo practice does not sacrifice a thoughtful human approach for the sake of speed. The entire Centivo Virtual Primary Care team evaluates patient symptoms and concerns in the context of their specific health status – which is unique for every patient. The team discusses their patients every day, share notes about people they’re concerned about, and the entire team, including the office manager, gets to know patients and can respond knowledgably and swiftly, with the familiarity and care you would expect from a local in-person practice.
3 – Coordinated quality community care
Any virtual primary care practice will need to send patients to in-person specialists or facilities for certain health issues, vaccines, lab work or other tests. Care coordination is an essential concept for PCMH recognition, and something we see as a critical focus for Centivo Virtual Primary Care. Because we’re sending patients out into their medical communities all over the country, we are constantly researching the providers, evaluating the quality of care, making the connections and following up on our referrals.
4 – Greater patient AND clinician satisfaction
Improving the patient experience was another substantial driver of baking PCMH guidelines into our virtual primary care model. In addition, as our own virtual team will attest, virtual care is rewarding and empowering for providers. Instead of focusing on speed or quantity of encounters, our virtual providers are given the resources, infrastructure and time to take really good, personalized care of people.
Virtual primary care at its core
In the past, and in some health plans today, virtual care options have been episodic, remote online visits, distinct and disconnected from a patient’s primary care relationship. As I mentioned earlier, The Centivo Virtual Primary Care practice is completely embedded in our health plan, reflecting the Centivo focus on primary care, with free virtual primary care visits, no deductible and predictable costs.
And as with any fast-growing innovation, there will be new ideas and shiny features to capture attention. For any employer or broker scouting virtual primary care as part of their plan, I’d suggest keeping an eye out for what’s at the heart of great care: quality, access, compassionate providers and dedicated patient-first care.
Learn more about Centivo Virtual Primary Care at vpc.centivo.com.