Opinion: Pandemic shows that ‘visiting’ the doctor online works just fine

The coronavirus pandemic has forced much of primary care medicine online—and that’s a good thing, according to health policy expert and primary care physician Michael Barnett.

“It took a pandemic to get there, but COVID-19 is giving us a sense of how much of our work we can do without tethering doctors to an exam room,” wrote Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in a May 11, 2020 opinion piece in the Washington Post.

Barnett said that, in his primary care practice, most in-person visits have been either postponed or canceled, and that no more than 5% of the practice’s hundreds of daily telemedicine visits have been referred for in-person visits.

“Much of the actual work of primary care happens when patients aren’t in the office, whether doctors are coordinating with three specialists to tweak a complex medication regimen or finding a hospice agency for an ailing patient,” he wrote. “The only reason we deliver almost all primary care through office visits is because that is what insurers will pay for.”

In-person visits shouldn’t be eliminated, but Barnett argued that “finding the right combination of interactions—whether emails, home visits or in-office appointments—between doctors and patients should be the norm.”

Read the Washington Post article: After the pandemic, visiting the doctor will never be the same. And that’s fine