Study: Majority of telehealth visits in wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma weren't disaster-related

Following natural disasters, patients are more likely to seek telehealth services for routine care, rather than for disaster-related health concerns, according to a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and led by the health policy research nonprofit RAND Corp.

The study, funded by RAND Corp. and the National Institutes of Health, analyzes the experiences of Doctor on Demand, one of at least five direct-to-consumer telehealth companies that offered free consultations to hurricane victims in 2017.

In the 30 days following Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, 2,057 people affected by the natural disasters used Doctor on Demand, 63 percent of whom were first-time users of the service.

Doctor on Demand's volume of services peaked three to six days after each hurricane made landfall. During the first week post-hurricane, the services most requested among those affected by the disasters related to chronic conditions, counseling, refills, and back and joint concerns.

The study authors concluded direct-to-consumer telehealth proved most useful in delivering routine medical care, rather than addressing disaster-related conditions, following the hurricanes.

"Our study illustrates the emerging role for direct-to-consumer telemedicine in disaster response," Lori Uscher-Pines, PhD, a senior policy researcher at RAND Corp. and lead author of the study, said in an April 25 statement.

"Relying on direct-to-consumer telehealth services may help relieve the immediate burden on [the] local healthcare system so that limited in-person care resources can be reserved for those patients with the greatest need," she continued.

More articles on telehealth:
Teladoc rolls out behavioral health navigation tool in US
AHA opposes 'unexpected,' 'significant' funding cuts in FCC's rural telehealth program
Zipnosis adds post-surgical care services to telehealth platform

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