Study finds virtual doctors not cost-effective — 5 key details

Practice Management

A study published in Health Affairs and covered in Kaiser Health News shows patients relying on seemingly cheaper virtual doctor consultations tend to lose money down the road.

Here are five things to know:


1. Smart phones and laptops have sparked telehealth's popularity over the past decade, according to the study's authors.


2. On average, each telehealth visit costs about $79 compared to a $146 in-office visit. While telehealth increases patients' access to physicians and looks cheaper on paper, virtual visits generate additional medical costs down the road.


3. Virtual visits often recommend patients seek care for minor illnesses that may not require in-office visits. Liability concerns prompt recommended follow-up appointments, lab tests and prescriptions, all of which increase spending in the long run.


4. Only 12 percent of telemedicine visits replaced in-person visits, while 88 percent represented new demand.


5. Telehealth services must replace costlier patient visits to achieve cost savings and/or target specific groups of patients (i.e. those who often use emergency rooms for less severe illnesses).


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