When patients use telehealth, how do they choose medical laboratories for lab test orders their virtual doctors have authorized?

Doctors On Demand is expanding the nation’s primary care services by launching a virtual care telehealth platform for health insurers and employers. This fits into a growing nationwide trend toward increased use of remote and virtual doctor’s visits. But how should clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups prepare for fulfilling virtual doctors’ lab test orders in ways consistent with current scope-of-practice laws?

The rise of virtual care is made possible by innovations in digital and telecommunication technology. Driven by studies showing more patients are opting out of conventional primary care visits that take too much time or are too far away, the healthcare industry is responding by bringing medical services—including pathology and clinical laboratory—closer to patients through retail settings and urgent care clinics.

Many pathologists and clinical laboratory managers are unaware of how swiftly patients are becoming comfortable with getting their primary care needs met by other types of caregivers, including virtually. Recently, the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI) published data showing that visits to primary care physicians declined 18% from 2012 to 2016 among adults under 65 who had employer-sponsored insurance. However, during these same years, visits with nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants increased by 129%!

Another way that providers are making it easier for patients to access healthcare is through the Internet.

Doctor On Demand, a San Francisco-based virtual care provider, is targeting insurers and employers with its Synapse telehealth platform, which integrates into existing health plan networks and enables virtual primary care, according to a news release.

“Through our fully integrated technology platform, we’re putting the patient first and introducing continuity of care not previously available through virtual care solutions,” said Hill Ferguson, CEO of Doctor On Demand in a statement announcing the launch of Synapse on the Humana (NYSE:HUM) health plan network. (Photo copyright: The Business Journals.)

How Synapse Works

Humana is using Synapse in its new On Hand virtual primary care plan, the news release states. Humana said its members have no copay for the virtual doctor visits and $5 copays for standard medical laboratory tests and prescriptions. Synapse’s “smart referrals” function sends referrals to in-network clinical laboratories, imaging providers, and pharmacies, Healthcare Dive reported.

“Humana has a deep footprint, and this is a payer looking to create a virtual primary care network as a way to contain cost and thinking about how care is coordinated and delivered,” Josh Berlin, a Principal and Healthcare Co-Practice Leader with advisory firm Citrin Cooperman, told FierceHealthcare.

Changing Primary Care Relationships

Another insurer advancing telehealth is Oscar Health, which offers its own Doctor on Call telehealth platform. The New York City-based health plan reported in a year-end review that 82% of its members had set up a profile that gave them access to a concierge care team and 24/7 telemedicine services, including clinical laboratory test results. 

During 2018, Oscar’s concierge teams addressed 1.2 million questions from 77% of its members, the insurer said.

The graphic above, taken from research conducted by the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI), shows that while virtual primary care has been expanding, conventional visits to primary care physicians fell 18% from 2012 to 2016 among adults under 65 who had employer-sponsored insurance. Simultaneously, visits with nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants increased by 129%! This indicates a shift in how patients view access to primary care physicians and may explain why telehealth is becoming an attractive option. How will clinical laboratories fit into this new healthcare paradigm? (Photo copyright: HCCI.)

Becker’s Hospital Review reports that telehealth usage by Oscar’s members is five times higher than the average for the healthcare industry.

Will Clinical Laboratories Receive Virtual Referrals?

In a way, it has never been easier for patients to see a primary care doctor or research symptoms. Additionally, the Internet makes it possible for patients to self-diagnose, though not always to the benefit of healthcare providers or the patients.

So, how should clinical laboratories respond to this growing expansion of virtual care doctors? Experts advise lab leaders to reach out to health plans soon and determine their inclusion in virtual healthcare networks. Labs also may benefit by making test scheduling and reporting accessible and convenient to insurance company members and consumers choosing telehealth.

During his keynote presentation at the 24th Annual Executive War College in May, Ted Schwab, a Los Angeles area Healthcare Strategist and Entrepreneur, said, “If you use Google in the United States to check symptoms, you’ll find 350 different electronic applications that will give you medical advice—meaning you’ll get a diagnosis over the Internet. These applications are winding their way somewhere through the regulatory process. (See Schwab’s expanded comments on this trend in, “Strategist Explains Key Trends in Healthcare’s Transformation,” The Dark Report, October 14, 2019.)

Schwab advises that in this “time of change” it’s critical for labs to take proactive measures. “What we know today is that providers—including clinical laboratories and pathology groups—who do nothing will get trampled. However, those providers that do something proactively will most likely be the winners as healthcare continues to transform.”

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Doctor On Demand Launches Synapse, a New Virtual Care Platform Delivering Next Generation Primary Care for Health Plans and Employer Populations

Telemedicine Startup Doctor On Demand Taps Giant Health Partner to Debut Virtual Primary Care Plan

Doctor On Demand Rolls Out Virtual Care Platform for Primary Care

Humana and Doctor On Demand Launch Virtual Primary Care Plan to Bring More Services With Lower Costs to Patients, Insurers, and Employers

Trends in Primary Care Visits

Humana and Doctor On Demand Launch Virtual Primary Care Plan

Oscar Health’s Telemedicine Use Five Times Greater than Health Insurance Average

Strategist Explains Key Trends in Healthcare’s Transformation

25th Annual Executive War College Conference on Laboratory and Pathology Management