First Assessment of National Telemedicine Service Finds Efforts Appear to Expand Access to Acute Medical Care
Feb 3, 2014
Published in: Health Affairs, v. 33, no. 2, Feb. 2014, p. 258-264
Posted on RAND.org on February 01, 2014
Despite the potential benefits of telehealth applications, little is known about their overall impact on care. This is critical because rising health care costs and a shortage of primary care providers make it likely that telehealth services will play an increasingly important role in health care delivery. To help fill this gap in knowledge, we describe early experiences with Teladoc, one of the largest telemedicine providers in the United States, which provides care directly to patients over the telephone or via the Internet. We analyzed claims data for a large California agency serving public employees that recently offered Teladoc as a covered service. The 3,701 Teladoc "visits" we studied were for a broad range of diagnostic categories, the most common of which were acute respiratory conditions, urinary tract infections, and skin problems. Compared to patients who visited a physician's office for a similar condition, adult Teladoc users were younger and less likely to have used health care before the introduction of Teladoc. Patients who used Teladoc were less likely to have a follow-up visit to any setting, compared to those patients who visited a physician's office or emergency department. Teladoc appears to be expanding access to patients who are not connected to other providers. Future research should assess the impact of Teladoc and other telehealth interventions on the quality and cost of care.