The Obvious Solution to the Primary Care Crisis is Technology 

Updated on December 30, 2022

With inflation woes plaguing much of 2022, Americans have struggled with the costs of almost everything – from food to clothes and even to healthcare for their families. Healthcare costs including healthcare maintenance, emergency needs, and private health insurance became increasingly difficult for many to afford. And while the affordability of healthcare is of increasing concern, there are also accelerating challenges of accessibility. Approximately 117,000 physicians left the workforce in Q4 2021. Meanwhile 45% of remaining physicians are older than 55, and some specialties in the US are reporting burn out rates at up to 60%.

And yet one solution to these problems is glaringly obvious: technology. Technology offers the biggest opportunity to transform healthcare in the U.S. by giving people more insights into their health, lowering the costs of care, improving access to care amidst a growing shortage of providers, and helping patients be aware of potential problems long before they would normally visit a doctor. 

Throughout each generation, more Americans are reaping the benefits of up-to-the-minute data – from the streaming algorithms that highlight the shows and films we’ll want to watch to our phones suggesting how long it will take to travel from work to home. At Babylon, we’ve given 10 million people access to our digital-first clinical services globally. In the United States today, we care for about 300,000 people in value-based care contracts across seven states. 

But what does this really look like in the lives of everyday people? Here are three examples of how technology helped patients during crises in 2022:

  • Helped families through the infant formula shortage. In May 2022, the U.S. experienced a severe shortage of infant formula as a result of the global supply chain crisis. This shortage was further compounded by a large-scale product recall of Abbott Labs formula and import restrictions. Many families with new babies struggled to find formula. Recognizing the role digital technology could play in curbing the crisis, many healthtech companies stepped up to help struggling families. For example, Babylon launched an outbound digital campaign to thousands of members to provide information about their nearest local resources during the difficult time. We provided locations of the nearest accredited milk banks and food pantries as well as contact information for local WIC offices and a list of Community Action Agencies who could connect families to their local agencies with formula in stock.  
  • Addressed the crisis in behavioral health by dramatically improving access to therapy and psychiatric care. Virtual care is revolutionizing access to behavioral health services, which have historically been difficult to access. Imagine going through your insurer or primary care doctor to find a therapist. The system isn’t built for ease. Today, not only can behavioral health services be accessed from anywhere on any device, but doctors can now screen for anxiety and depression markers virtually – both improving access and reducing societal stigmas around receiving behavioral care in-person. Through an integrated, digital-first model, the whole care of the patient is able to be taken into consideration. This level of care has been shown to drastically reduce burdens. In 2022, Babylon had over 43,000 visits for direct therapy and over 14,000 visits with a Psychiatry Clinician. We are seeing a 59% reduction in depression burden and a 55% reduction in anxiety burden as measured by industry standard rating scales (PHQ-9 and GAD-7), which are results commensurate with the evidence base for Collaborative Care, and importantly are leading indicators for an overall reduction in claims spending across both medical and behavioral health categories.
  • Launched a digital-first chronic condition program to treat complex conditions. A key advantage of technology is the ability to collect data outside traditional face-to-face visits. More than a quarter of U.S. adults have a wearable device and almost two-thirds are already proactively monitoring their health.  A digital-first chronic condition program can improve patient health and decrease the rate of acute events and associated hospitalizations. Remote patient monitoring (RPM) has demonstrated a reduction in hospital admissions and mortality for adults with heart failure based on systematic reviews. In 2022, Babylon released five new programs for treating hypertension, diabetes, low back pain, anxiety and depression. For example, one of the leading causes of heart attacks and strokes is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. As depicted in the diagram below, when a patient enters the hypertension clinical pathway, a personalized care plan is developed based on that patient’s assessment and is shared with their care team who supports them with frequent touchpoints and progress tracking. The patient and care team work together to execute the plan, a re-assessment is conducted within 90 days and the care plan is re-evaluated based on the findings. 

These are only three examples of how digitally-enabled care is becoming more accessible and affordable at Babylon. As the healthcare sector’s technological capabilities continue to advance, and as greater numbers of Americans have access to these innovations, making technology work for patients will be a top priority. 

Isn’t it time that the U.S. healthcare system brought these tools to all of us?

Darshak Sanghavi, MD is Global Chief Medical Officer at Babylon.