January 20, 2019
Online Doctor and E-Health Concept
Health News

Telehealth Encourages Overutilization for Minor Ailments

by Berkeley Wellness  

Telehealth—the rapidly growing practice of providing health care via a smartphone or other computer—can help increase access to medical care, but it may encourage overutilization for minor ailments and thus not reduce overall costs, as has been hoped.

Promoted as a convenient and less-expensive way to get care, telehealth (also called telemedicine) often leads to new use of medical services rather than replacing in-person care, according to a RAND study in Health Affairs. It analyzed data on 300,000 Californians with insurance coverage for telehealth and focused on its common use for acute respiratory illnesses (such as colds, flu, bronchitis, and sinusitis). It estimated that among people who initiated such telehealth sessions, only 12 percent did so instead of going to a doctor’s office or emergency room; the other 88 percent would not have sought care. Such respiratory illnesses are usually self-limiting, so they seldom require medical attention.

“While we found that per episode spending was lower if the patient had a direct-to-consumer telehealth visit, compared to an in-person visit, the convenience of telehealth led to greater use of care and therefore increased health care spending,” the researchers concluded.

Also see Is Telemedicine Right for You?