Epic research shows telehealth efficacy, makes case for more reimbursement
December 15, 2022
The study of 35 million telehealth visits found that most patients did not require in-person visits within 90 days of online appointments, indicating virtual visits as an effective "alternative, rather than duplicative" care modality.
A dual team study of in-person, same-specialty follow-up rates after telehealth appointments published by Epic Research examined the cadence of care and found virtual medicine to be an effective tool.
WHY IT MATTERS
Analyzing the effectiveness of different methods for delivering care is important to guide decisions about how to allocate resources, according to the study's key findings report.
To determine which specialties were able to fulfill patient needs using telehealth and which required in-person follow-up visits more often, two teams of researchers examined more than 35 million telehealth visits conducted between March 1, 2020, and May 31, 2022.
What they found, according to the report, is that high in-person follow-up rates within three months were present only in specialties that require regular hands-on care, such as obstetrics and surgery.
Follow-up visits within 90 days of telehealth appointments were not, by and large, instances of duplicative care, but a method of care delivery that can increase healthcare access, the researchers say.
"Healthcare providers should continue to educate policymakers and administrators on the function telehealth plays as an alternative, rather than duplicative, encounter," they said in the report, adding that payers should extend telehealth visit coverage.
The researchers also found that genetics and nutrition are the specialties that made the most efficient use of telemedicine.
And while 15% of mental healthcare and psychiatry telehealth appointments required in-person follow-up in the next three months, that specialty had the largest volume of all studied for telehealth utilization.
Of the more than 4.3 million telehealth visits during the study period, nearly 3.7 million mental health and psychiatry telehealth visits did not require in-person follow-up.
THE LARGER TREND
While telehealth use increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, one study of 40.7 million adults found telehealth comparable for chronic conditions.
However, some experts quickly found telemedicine well-suited for use in behavioral health after the onset of the pandemic.
Also, the COVID-19 public health emergency eliminated the requirement to have an in-person visit with a patient before prescribing medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder (OUD).
While an end to the PHE would signal a return to the in-person visit requirement for OUD prescriptions, several healthcare organizations have urged the U.S. Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency to revise telehealth controlled substance rules.
In rural areas, telehealth has increased access to care, including the ability to treat OUD with MAT.
"Telehealth flexibilities and ePrescribing waivers have been crucial in enabling providers to care for patients during the pandemic and have greatly expanded access to care in situations where patients were unable or unwilling to travel to a physical location," Dr. Maroof Ahmed, co-founder of Quit Genius, told Healthcare IT News by email in October.
ON THE RECORD
"These findings suggest that, for many specialties, telehealth visits are typically an efficient use of resources and are unlikely to require in-person follow-up care," according to the researchers' key findings report.
Andrea Fox is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS publication.
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