Telemedicine—delivered virtually by internet or phone—has roots in patient demands for more convenient alternatives to care. However, the COVID-19 pandemic transformed telemedicine into a necessity. Surveys conducted in April 2020 showed that up to 90 percent of physicians offered telehealth visits in response to social distancing and lockdown mandates. RAND work examined the early experience of practicing virtual medicine during the pandemic. Current research is examining trends in telemedicine use during the pandemic and the impact on preventive care and other primary care services.
RAND research also focused on telemedicine prior to the pandemic. RAND work found that the quality of telemedicine for selected routine conditions was equal to care delivered in person, but was unlikely to save money because more people used care. Our work also examined telemedicine use in treating specific populations, including:
- Users of federal safety net clinics in California: Safety-net medical providers can increase telemedicine services with modest investments in new staff and technology, a move that can help them expand patients' access to specialized medical care.
- Substance use disorder patients: Telemedicine is increasing steadily among substance use disorder (SUD) treatment facilities; however, uptake is uneven and relatively low. As such, telemedicine may be an underutilized tool to expand access to care for patients with SUDs.
- Veterans with mental health conditions: Prior to the pandemic, veterans of post-9/11 conflicts had limited access to virtual mental care. Future research will examine the impact of increased use of telemedicine during the pandemic.
- Patients with opioid and mental health disorders: A new model of care is emerging for patients with these co-occurring conditions. Care is delivered virtually to patients in their homes.