- According to a recent study, telehealth reduces primary care spending, as it has been associated with lower department utilization and inpatient hospitalizations.
- The study found that The availability of telehealth did not result in additional primary care visits and that telehealth may serve as a substitute for certain in-person visits.
- Researchers also found that patients with complex medical needs mainly utilize virtual care.
Telehealth utilization has changed the healthcare delivery model allowing physicians to assist patients remotely and reach more patients than ever. This model use has skyrocketed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The telehealth question of whether it will lead to an increase in primary care utilization and spending or if it will save money from physicians and be used as an addition to in-person visits continues as a debate in the healthcare industry.
According to a Nature study, telehealth reduces primary care spending, as telehealth utilization has been associated with lower department utilization and inpatient hospitalizations.
The study analyzed more than 4 million primary care visits from more than 900,000 unique patients between 2019 and 2021. The objective was to monitor these visits to determine if the increased use of telehealth during the pandemic led to the over-utilization of primary care.
Some of the key telehealth findings of the study are:
1. The availability of telehealth did not result in additional primary care visits. Researchers found that, instead, it may have served as a substitute for specific in-person encounters.
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2. The average number of primary care visits per patient remained stable across commercial insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare patients. Also, telehealth uptake was highest among vulnerable populations, such as beneficiaries of these programs, Black patients, and patients with incomes of less than $25,000.
3. Telehealth use occurs more by patients with multiple primary care visits, suggesting that patients with complex medical needs mainly utilize virtual care.
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The study also cited another study by Dixit et al. (2022) named The impact of expanded telehealth availability on primary care utilization. In this article, the authors found that telehealth can substitute for in-person care rather than contribute to overutilization. The authors suggested that entities should monitor this healthcare delivery model as it evolves, its outcomes, utilization, and quality of care.
Read the complete study here: Has increased telehealth access during COVID-19 led to over-utilization of primary care?
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