During the global pandemic, telehealth has experienced a rapid expansion. It is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced the shift in healthcare from mostly in-person care to predominantly virtual care particularly during the peak of infections. However, there is a lot of discussion on the role of telehealth in the post-pandemic world and how it will fit into the existing healthcare system.
A recent study by University of Michigan researchers published in Health Affairs indicates that virtual visits may lead to additional in-person follow-up appointments in the future.
The study analyzed and compared a large number of virtual appointments (more than 28,700 appointments) and in-person appointments (more than 57,400 appointments) data from the period between 2016 and 2019. The findings show that during this period patients who had an initial virtual visit for respiratory infections (including pneumonia, bronchitis, and ear infection) were more likely to come back for in-person follow-ups than the patients with similar conditions who had their first visit in person.
The study claims that the number of patients first seen virtually and followed up in person within a week was as high as 10.3% in comparison to the 5.9% of those returning after an initial in-person visit.
Studies like this can help us better understand how the rise of direct-to-consumer telehealth is affecting patient outcomes and overall the health care system as a whole.
It is also important to understand other factors like health insurance coverage of telehealth services versus in-person services. In the cases discussed in the study, both patient’s telehealth and in-person visits were covered by a large insurance provider. In the cases where patients seek telehealth services for which they pay out of pocket rather than using insurance coverage, the return rate for an in-person follow-up may not be as high.
It is still unclear how the telehealth regulations will change after the state of emergency ends. However, the efforts of organizations like the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) are showing promising changes towards more accessible and reimbursable telehealth in the future. For more information on the latest updates on telehealth legislation read one of our recent articles here.