Study: For nonurgent care, virtual visits save up to $1.7k

A study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research investigated how health insurance claims from virtual patient visits compared to those from in-person patient visits, when considering a three-week episode of care.

The researchers — led by Aliza S. Gordon of Wilmington, Del.-based HealthCore — identified 59,945 patients who received care for acute and nonurgent issues, including 4,635 done virtually and 55,310 done in person. In-person visit locations included retail health clinics, urgent care centers, emergency departments and primary care physicians' offices.

The researchers determined all in-person visit locations tended to produce higher episode of care costs than virtual visits:

  • Retail health clinic: $36 more expensive than virtual care
  • Urgent care center: $153 more expensive than virtual care
  • Emergency department: $1,735 more expensive than virtual care
  • Primary care physician's office: $162 more expensive than virtual care

In addition, episodes categorized as virtual visits, primary care physician's offices and retail health clinics had similar follow-up visit rates.

"Virtual care appears to be a low-cost alternative to care administered in other settings with lower testing rates," the researchers concluded. "The similar follow-up rate suggests adequate clinical resolution and that patients are not using virtual visits as a first step before seeking in-person care."

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