Economic Analysis Shatters Myths of Telemedicine


For years, telemedicine did not take off, despite expectations that it would revolutionize the delivery of health care. In the United States, for example, remote visits were a thin percentage primary care visits before 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. Stay-at-home orders and regulatory changes have fueled an unprecedented increase in virtual doctor visits.

TO Stanford Healthcare, for example, less than 2% of patient visits were made virtually in 2019. But in mid-April 2020, just a month after Bay Area counties issued stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, 70% of the visits were virtual.

While there are concerns that telemedicine may result in poorer quality care and contribute to higher costs, a Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research work document published in June revealed that these fears are likely exaggerated.

Researchers used medical records from Israel’s largest healthcare provider to analyze the impact of telemedicine in the country and found that increased access to telemedicine led to lower costs, with no signs of results. negative.

“Policymakers, doctors or patients should be more reassured that stepping up telemedicine is not harmful,” said Liran Einav, PhD, professor of economics at Stanford University and co-author of the article, which has not yet been peer-reviewed.

A win-win

Like much of the world, Israel went into custody as COVID-19 cases began to rise in March 2020. Over the following weeks, primary care telemedicine uses increased from 5% to 40 %. Usage remained high – at 20% – even after Israel returned to a short period of relative normality in May. This coronavirus timeline gave researchers the opportunity to explore what the use of telemedicine might look like after the pandemic.

By analyzing Clalit Health Services records for 12 million primary care visits, researchers identified patients with remote care access and showed that increased access to telemedicine led to a 3.5% increase in visits. primary care. But, the overall cost of services used within 30 days of a first visit was 5% lower.

The researchers also analyzed three medical conditions – urinary tract infections, heart attacks, and bone fractures – in more detail. For all three, they found that accessing telemedicine did not result in missed diagnoses or negatively impact treatment.

“I don’t think there are a lot of arguments here: medical care that makes sense to switch to telemedicine leads to a better and cheaper experience for everyone,” Einav said. “It’s a win-win as long as the quality of care doesn’t suffer.”

Telemedicine may also have additional benefits, such as increased convenience and improved access, the researchers concluded. Although the results suggest that telemedicine may improve patient care, questions remain about its future.

“More research and more statistical power is needed to know how we should regulate it and where we should draw the line on what kind of remote care should be allowed versus unauthorized,” Einav said.

This is a condensed version of the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy story. Read the full story here.


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