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As thousands of doctors’ offices shutter, telehealth becomes a way of life

Like many other physicians, Dr. Sandra Esparza and her husband Ramon closed their 17-year old primary care practice in December. It had always been a strain to both run the business and be the practice’s lead physicians, but the pressures of the pandemic made operating their company unsustainable. After closing their practice, Ramon, who is a pediatrician, started working full-time at a local clinic in Austin. Esparza started working for Doctor On Demand. She’s now licensed in 10 states caring for a stream of patients she’s never seen before and probably won’t see again.

The Esparzas aren’t alone. COVID-19 has put unprecedented stress on doctors’ offices across the United States. In December, the nonprofit Physicians Foundation reported that roughly 8% of physician practices were forced to close because of the pandemic. Another 4% of physician practices are expected to shut down their offices within the next year. Even doctors that are still in business are burning out.

Meanwhile, online healthcare has exploded, providing extraordinary support to a medical system under fire. Doctors are already incorporating telehealth into their practices and shifting elements of care out of the office and into the home. There is also a wave of online-only national health care providers that have been waiting in the wings for a moment just like this. These companies—Teladoc, Hims & Hers, Doctor On Demand—have been invaluable in taking care of Americans whose typical primary care practice has closed or who are too afraid to go into the doctor’s office (and maybe aren’t aware their doctors are online).

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