A recent Epic Research study on 18 million primary care telehealth visits conducted between March 2020 and October 2022 determined that 61% of these visits did not require an in-person follow-up appointment within three months.The study’s authors suggest that these findings could have significant implications for future telehealth policies and practices.
The results of the study also indicated that, although children went to an in-person office more often after a telehealth visit, more than half of the time (54%) they did not need one. Furthermore, patients with Medicare or Medicaid coverage had the highest in-person follow-up rates, but still, 55% of patients did not have an in-person follow-up after a primary care telehealth visit.
Although primary care telehealth visits showed a slightly lower rate of telehealth visits without an in-person follow-up than other specialties previously evaluated, the study’s authors warn that the 61% without follow-up in primary care may be an underestimate. They explain that primary care physicians are able to treat a variety of ailments, and the subsequent physical appointment could have had nothing to do with the purpose of the telehealth visit.
Interestingly, a prior investigation led by the same team revealed that the majority of individuals who had a telehealth appointment did not necessitate an in-person follow-up visit for the same specialty within a three-month period. This study, which examined over 35 million telehealth visits between March 2020 and May 2022, found that specialties such as genetics and nutrition made the most efficient use of telehealth visits, with follow-up rates of only 4% and 10%, respectively.
The results from both studies imply that telehealth appointments are cost-effective for a variety of specialties and do not generally require an in-person follow-up appointment. However, the study’s authors caution that further research is necessary to determine whether these findings hold in other specialties and patient populations.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in the use of telehealth visits, and the study’s findings could have significant implications for the future of healthcare delivery. The data indicate that telehealth visits could potentially be an effective tool to help expand access to care and reduce the burden on patients and providers, particularly in specialties such as genetics and nutrition.
The study’s authors recommend that healthcare providers continue to educate policymakers and administrators on the function telehealth plays as an alternative, rather than duplicative, encounter. They also suggest that healthcare payers should extend telehealth visit coverage beyond the current waiver to support this method of care delivery and increased healthcare access.