Research has revealed that the majority of patients who had a virtual visit for obstetric and fertility care needed to have an in-person follow-up within three months of the telehealth visit. Epic Research undertook the study to evaluate the rate of telehealth visits by specialty and how often in-person follow-up within the same specialty was necessary. The analysis was conducted between March 1, 2020, and May 31, 2022, and included data from 35 million telehealth visits. The data was obtained from the Cosmos dataset, which is HIPAA-compliant and contains information from 180 organizations using Epic EHR. This dataset includes information from 1,063 hospitals and over 22,500 clinics, and contains over 170 million patient records.
It was discovered by researchers that, in the majority of specialties studied, patients who had a telehealth appointment did not need a face-to-face follow-up consultation within the next three months in that same specialty. Only 4%, 10%, and 14% of patients in genetics, nutrition, and endocrinology respectively required an in-person follow-up, making these specialties the ones with the lowest rates of such appointments. Telehealth usage rates for mental health and psychiatry were the highest among all specialties surveyed, yet the need for in-person follow-up with patients was among the lowest. Only 15% of patients needed an in-person follow-up within three months among the 4.3 million patients who participated in a virtual visit for mental health and psychiatry services. At the opposite end of the scale, 92% of obstetric patients require an in-person visit three months after a telehealth appointment. A similar trend was observed in fertility and geriatric care, with 54% and 50% of patients needing an in-person follow-up, respectively. Furthermore, 43% of surgery patients required in-person care following a telehealth visit within the same time frame.
The researchers concluded that telehealth is an effective tool for expanding access to care, noting in their report that follow-up rates were only high in specialties requiring regular in-person visits. However, they suggested that as long as telehealth is not being used as a replacement for in-person care, it is an efficient use of resources and unlikely to result in a need for follow-up care in many specialties.