Telemedicine may lead to more in-person follow-up visits, study finds

Despite being designed to offer patients quick and convenient access to care, virtual urgent care visits may actually lead to additional follow-up care in person, according to an April 6 study published in Health Affairs.

For the study, Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan researchers compared data from more than 28,700 virtual visits with data from more than 54,700 in-person visits for acute respiratory infections from 2016-19. The visits, and any follow up care, were covered by a large health insurer and provided by a direct-to-consumer telehealth company.

While the majority of patients did not need any further care for their infections, which included ear infections, bronchitis, laryngitis, sore throat and pneumonia, 10.3 percent of patients first seen via telehealth ended up having an in-person visit in the next week. This was compared to 5.9 percent of individuals who had their first visit in person and includes second telehealth visits or visits to clinics, urgent care centers and emergency rooms.

Since telehealth has increased rapidly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unclear how virtual care models will affect downstream use and care costs, study author Kathleen Li, MD, said in an April 6 news release.


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