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The telemedicine delivery model has dominated the health care space over the past several years, and employer support has contributed significantly to its increased popularity. Many employers offer bundled or standalone telemedicine services as a supplement to employee health plans, and those with employer-sponsored clinics often provide the service as a coverage option for remote employee populations. For many patients who had never had a telemedicine visit previously, 2020 became the catalyst: As the pandemic forced more primary care practices to offer telehealth, the solution’s obvious benefits — safety, convenience and accessibility — took center stage.

More recently, forward-thinking health care professionals have begun to highlight the longer-term consequences of a large-scale shift to tele-based care — and for good reason. The financial implications alone give one pause: A 2017 study in HealthAffairs found that telemedicine increased rather than reduced health spending; its cost-per-encounter billing model can often come with a hefty price tag for employees; and its lack of plan integration prevents referrals to high-quality and cost-effective local providers.

The biggest danger of telemedicine, however, is the “box of chocolates” problem. When a patient signs on for a telemedicine appointment, they never know what they’re going to get. With a new provider every visit, no access to historical medical records, and limited follow-up capabilities, telemedicine offers zero continuity and risks significant gaps in patient care. Add to this the medical homelessness that results from a false sense of security in telehealth services, and the current trajectory of virtual health care has the potential to completely eliminate the doctor-patient relationship. The data proves this out: A recent Deloitte study found that despite increased usage of telemedicine in 2020, fewer patients overall were happy with their virtual clinician.

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