Updated: Oct 27
Primary care and rural health clinics are, or soon will be, facing serious challenges from mega corporations seeking to siphon away high-value health services through remote site virtual urgent care and virtual primary care (e-visits). There are new players in telehealth threatening clinics’ revenue from primary care services. The services provided through mega corporation telehealth will further fracture the Electronic Health Records of patients. This new source of competition for patients is both an existential danger and an opportunity for primary and rural healthcare clinics. Proactive actions by clinics using a next-gen HIPAA compliant telehealth platform can compete with and blunt the negative impact of mega corporation telehealth.
The Cures Act of 2022 and subsequent expanded telehealth CPT codes are intended to increase the financial value and quality of both urban and rural telehealth services. However, they also open a flood gate of competition from sources geographically removed from the service territories of primary care and rural health clinics. Companies like CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, health insurance companies and major truck stops and gas stations have well-financed telehealth strategies for the introduction of remote telehealth and on-location primary care in markets they previously only served in traditional business formats. Because telehealth billing and telehealth reimbursement no longer require the presence of health care providers in the building with the patient, telehealth services by remote telehealth organizations can have serious impacts on rural health organizations’ patient retention and overall financial well being.
What can primary care and rural health clinics do? They must move to advanced, next-generation HIPAA compliant telemedicine software strongly coupled to existing brick-and-mortar facilities. Vulnerable business video systems like ZOOM or WebEx will not provide the integrated structures for optimized care delivery. EHR spinoff telehealth does not provide the level of security required to keep health records secure. Patients in rural settings have high levels of loyalty to their local providers and will support rural medical organizations who continue to serve them if the quality of care and access to care equals or exceeds offerings by remote telehealth providers.
To retain patients and revenue, primary care and rural health clinics must understand what constitutes advanced, next-generation integrated telehealth. Simple two-way telehealth video conferencing without direct access to patient medical records will no longer be competitively viable. Many of these systems are or will be non-compliant with confidentiality and security standards. Limited access to electronic health records locked in proprietary systems will cease to meet the intended Cures Act goal of total health care record interoperability.
“Integration” will become the key word for primary care and rural health clinics. Integration involves access to all medical records irrespective of EHR brand or geographic area where care was administered. It also means telemedicine must become an inseparable and integrated component of health care involving the patient, provider, administration, and external third-party care resources. Such software should provide enhanced and simplified documentation, billing, real-time prescription, and the ability to integrate multiple types of remote patient monitoring. Integration of an advanced telehealth system with local or remote medical services can expand care hours and enhance access to specialist care. Lastly, an advanced telehealth system should significantly contribute to the revenues of primary care and rural health clinics.
Primary care and rural health clinics have consistently demonstrated creativity and effective strategies in health care that often outshine their counterparts. The aggressive pursuit of mega corporations to insert themselves into the primary care and rural health clinics’ environment is truly a threat, but clinics have access to the tools and adaptations to mitigate the danger such corporations pose. Clinics must begin now to adopt advanced telehealth as an integrated and integral part of the care services they provide.
Creating the right telehealth strategy and working with supportive partners who understand next-generation telemedicine software will become the standard for advancing primary care and rural health care services and their overall financial well-being.