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Dr Harpreet Sarna: The incredible rise of primary care

Published: 22/07/2022

With demand for primary care growing exponentially and engagement with digital healthcare at record levels, PMI is evolving, writes Dr Harpreet Sarna, Vitality Medical Director

Given the significant pressures on the NHS, demand for private primary care has never been greater. We’ve seen this first-hand within our claims data. Primary care services accounted for more than 40% of all our health claims in 2021, compared to 10% in 2015 - when we were the first to introduce virtual GPs to the health insurance market.

While increasing virtual GP uptake during the pandemic was a big driver of this growth - rising 70% between 2019 and 2021 – it is not the only factor at play. Expansion of our primary care services to include Talking Therapies (including CBT and counselling) and physiotherapy has also played its part – contributing 4% and 9% of total health claims respectively .

As we revealed in our first ever Health Claims Insights Report, published in June, over 100,000 digital consultations were undertaken by our members last year, and these included CBT, online physio and Vitality GP.

“Clients today are well within their right to expect high quality, integrated healthcare that is easy to access at a time that is convenient, and goes beyond just secondary care,”

- Dr Harpreet Sarna, Medical Director, Vitality


More seamless access

Groups aged between 25 and 40 were seen to be the most likely to use our virtual GP service, however we’ve seen high numbers of consultations across all age groups. Now 80% of Talking Therapies are taking place online and 60% of physiotherapy is going through a digital triage journey.

What this points to is growing confidence and an openness to digital care, especially among younger generations, as online clinical pathways increasingly become the norm; a trend we saw prior to the pandemic that has been catalysed by it. This means quicker access to treatment for clients, and we expect this to be the direction of travel going forward.

PMI evolution

Private medical insurance (PMI) in the past centred almost purely on access to onward treatment, but the proposition is evolving. As well as the preventative role PMI can play as part of comprehensive end-to-end health cover, the rise of integrated primary care within PMI as part of a digital pathway is a development we feel is only getting started.

As well as timely advice and support, GP services are providing PMI customers with pre-authorised referrals for onward treatment to speed up access to care. The number of users of our digital claims service Care Hub has risen significantly over the past 12 months, with 35,000 unique visitors each month. As part of this, they are able to get instant claims decisions, and then choose and book the right specialist for them by using our Consultant Finder. Our Consultant Finder allows members to compare specialists and identify those with superior quality outcomes.

Approximately half of our members are using Care Hub to request care. The rest take advantage of being able to digitally access everything their plan offers, including condition history through to excess details, all in one place.

Then there is access to remote and face-to-face health checks, preventative cancer screening such as diagnostic skin analytics, and menopause support, as well as improved health outcomes through proactive nudges towards better lifestyle choices, and more. Clients today are well within their right to expect far more than just access to secondary care from their health insurance provider.

Tangible value

There’s no escaping the cost-of-living crisis we’re all facing in the UK today, which has seen inflation reach its highest rate in 40 years and energy prices skyrocket. Offering clients tangible value from day one is arguably more important now than ever. Not just for prospective clients, but also when it comes to retaining existing clients. This is where incentivising better lifestyle choices in a way that helps prevents illness alongside access to primary care can play a vital role.

Given the many health challenges we face as a nation, our view is simple: a structured, evidence-based behaviour change programme integrated into a fully comprehensive PMI plan is the future. Especially as it can ease the burden on the NHS and keep clients engaged in a way that can help them stay heathier, for longer. This way, everyone wins.
Find out more about how indexation works and why it is a good idea for your clients, especially at this time.

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1 Vitality Health Claims Insights 2022