Epic Research tied a nice ribbon on the end of 2022 with a study suggesting that telehealth is an efficient use of resources for most specialties, rarely requiring an in-person follow-up within 90 days.
The research appears to indicate that telehealth isn’t usually duplicative of in-person visits, adding weight to the argument that regulators should view it as an alternative, rather than an additional encounter.
After examining over 35M telehealth visits conducted between March 2020 and May 2022, Epic Research found a pretty wide spread between specialties for both the number of telehealth visits and in-person follow-up percentages.
The main finding was that high follow-up rates were present only in specialties that require regular in-person visits for hands-on care, such as obstetrics and surgery.
- Mental health and psychiatry had the highest telehealth utilization and some of the lowest need for in-person follow-up. No surprises there.
- Only 15% of telemental health visits needed an in-person follow-up within the next three months.
- On the opposite end of the spectrum, obstetrics (92%), fertility (54%), and geriatrics (50%) had the highest need for in-person follow-ups.
- In specialties that could be consultations (e.g. genetics, nutrition), the researchers stated that telehealth might even replace the need for in-person visits.
While the numbers certainly look good for telehealth at first glance, the pandemic itself might be doing them a lot of favors.
Many medical offices closed at the beginning of the study period, and most didn’t reopen to in-person appointments for several months. Plenty of patients also remain wary of in-person visits due to the risk of virus exposure. Both factors probably skewed the in-person follow-ups to a lower range.
Those details aside, Epic Research gave a great overview of in-person follow-up needs by specialty, and the more data we can wrap around telehealth’s impact the better.