Primary Care’s Shift to Telehealth and Pharmacies

Primary care patients are a major source of lab test referrals to the nation’s clinical laboratories. Until recent years, the typical primary care clinic was located in or near the medical campus of the local hospital and was probably owned by the doctors who staffed the clinic. 

Three things are changing this traditional model of primary care: Millennials, telehealth, and owners of retail pharmacy chains. Lab managers and pathologists will want to understand and track these three forces that are transforming the delivery of primary care in the United States. 

Millennials are a force for change in the delivery of primary care for two reasons. First, by 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce and the patient population. Second, they access healthcare much differently than the two generations that proceeded them (Gen X and Baby Boomers). Millennials want speedy access to their healthcare and are comfortable using digital channels to access medical information and interact with their caregivers. 

Telehealth is a force for change in how patients access primary care physicians (along with specialist physicians). One consequence of the pandemic is how it triggered increased use of telehealth and virtual doctor visits by both physicians and patients alike over the past 18 months. Today, surveys indicate that more than 50% of doctors and patients surveyed are willing to utilize telehealth services. 

Retail pharmacy chains can be expected to be the most disruptive factors in shifting primary care visits away from traditional, stand-alone family practice clinics and toward primary care centers located in or next door to chain pharmacy stories. Our coverage of Walgreens’ $5.2 billion investment in VillageMD, a primary care provider already partnering with Walgreens, is just the latest market development confirming this trend. (See this article.) 

Collectively, these three powerful forces are now working to transform the long-standing model of primary care. Clinical laboratories that serve primary care physicians will want to understand these trends and develop strategies to serve both sides of a primary care visit: the physician who needs to order the clinical lab tests and the patient who is interested in the lab test results. The good news is that there is time for labs to study these three trends and use this knowledge to organize lab testing services that meet the different and unique needs of tomorrow’s primary care delivery model. 



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