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Telehealth patients rarely need an in-person follow-up

Trend holds true across almost every specialty.

Most patients who had a telehealth visit did not require an in-person follow-up appointment in that same specialty in the next three months, according to a study conducted by Epic Research.

Researchers examined more than 35 million telehealth visits conducted between March 2020 and May 2022 to see how often in-person follow-ups were required. The highest rates were not surprisingly in specialties that have unavoidable needs for hands-on care, such as obstetrics, geriatrics, and surgery.

Specialties such as mental health and psychiatry had the largest volume of telehealth usage paired with some of the lowest rates of in-person follow-ups, with only 15% of patients needing to see the doctor in the office within three months of the initial telehealth visit.

Researchers say that for many specialties, telehealth visits are an efficient use of resources in most cases that are unlikely to require in-person follow-up care. In some cases, such as for genetics and nutrition, telehealth might even replace the need for in-person visits, according to the report. Genetics only required in-person follow-up 4% of the time, while nutrition visits required them 10% of the time.

Health care providers should continue to educate policymakers and administrators on how telehealth is an alternative method of seeing patients, and not a duplicative one, researchers say, adding that payers should extend telehealth visit coverage beyond the current waiver to support this method of care delivery and increased health care access.

This article was published by our sister publication Medical Economics.