Telehealth does not lead to increased primary care spending, study finds

Telehealth reduces primary care spending, as telehealth utilization has been associated with lower emergency department utilization and inpatient hospitalizations, according to a Dec. 13 study editorial published in Nature.

The editorial references a study from MedStar Health, Stanford Medicine, and Intermountain Healthcare researchers that analyzed 4,114,651 primary care visits from 939,134 unique patients across three healthcare systems between 2019 and 2021 to see if the increased use of telehealth during the pandemic led to over-utilization of primary care. 

Additional information cited in the paper includes:

  • The average number of primary care visits per patient remained stable across patients on commercial insurance, Medicare and Medicaid.

  • The results suggested that the availability of telehealth did not result in additional primary care visits. Instead, researchers found that telehealth may have served as a substitute for certain in-person encounters.

  • Researchers also found that telehealth use occurred more by patients with multiple primary care visits, suggesting that virtual care was mostly utilized by patients with complex medical needs. 

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