To explore the efficacy of primary care telehealth, a recent Epic Research study examined the frequency of in-person physician visits that followed 18,636,522 primary care telemedicine appointments.
WHY IT MATTERS
The dual team study published by Epic found that 60% of the time, the virtual primary care telehealth appointments held between March 1, 2020, and October 15, 2022, did not result in subsequent doctors visits.
In addition, Epic found that kids more frequently had an office visit following telehealth: more than half (54%) saw pediatricians in person within 90 days.
“General pediatrics was the most common primary care specialty to need in-person follow-up, but patients still had in-person follow-up less than half of the time,” researchers said in the new report.
They also looked at the differences in the rate of in-person follow-up based on a patient’s insurance coverage.
“We found that patients covered by Medicaid and Medicare had the highest in-person follow-up rates,” they said.
However, 55% of the time, patients did not have an in-person follow-up visit – regardless of coverage.
THE LARGER TREND
Epic’s previous study of 35 million specialty telehealth visits also found that most patients did not require in-person visits within 90 days of their online appointments.
High rates of in-person follow-up were present only in specialties that require hands-on care, such as obstetrics and surgery.
Travis Rush, CEO of Reperio, a vendor of at-home biometric screening technologies, told Healthcare IT News that healthcare leaders should embrace home-based care technologies because they can elevate health and reduce the costs of chronic diseases.
“Fewer individuals than ever visit their primary care doctor on a regular basis – even if they have insurance,” Rush said last month.
Physician shortage is also a factor in fewer in-person visits.
“Americans are having a harder time securing an appointment with a doctor than 10 years ago,” he pointed out.
ON THE RECORD
“While primary care shows a slightly lower rate of telehealth visits without an in-person follow-up compared to the specialties previously evaluated, the 61% without a follow-up in primary care might be an underestimate,” said Epic researchers in the report.
“Primary care physicians treat a wide variety of conditions, so the subsequent in-person visit might not have been related to the reason for the telehealth visit,” they added, noting that patients may have booked telehealth appointments ahead of unrelated, previously scheduled wellness visits.
Andrea Fox is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.