Telemedicine programs used by younger, more affluent patients

A recent RAND Corporation study found telemedicine programs are used by individuals who are younger, more affluent and who do not have established health care relationships.

Researchers studied 3,701 patient visits provided from April 2012 to February 2013 by Teladoc, one of the nation’s largest providers of telemedicine services. All patients studied were covered through a health plan offered by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which provides health insurance to the state’s public workers. Researchers compared patients who used Teladoc to individuals who visited hospital emergency departments or a doctor’s office for a similar problem.

Overall, study results showed Teladoc users were younger, had fewer chronic conditions and were less likely to have used health care in the previous year compared with other enrollees who used a hospital emergency department or visited a physician’s office for similar conditions. Teladoc users were also more likely to be women and live in more affluent areas. More than a third of Teladoc visits occurred on weekends or holidays, according to study results. Researchers also found the most common problems for a Teladoc visit were acute respiratory conditions, urinary tract infections or skin problems, as well as abdominal pain, back and joint problems, viral illness, eye problems and ear infections.

“Telemedicine services such as the one we studied that directly links physicians and patients via telephone or internet have the potential to expand access to care and lower costs,” Lori Uscher-Pines, policy researcher at RAND, stated in a news release. “However, little is known about how these services are being used and whether they provide good quality care. Our study provides a first step to better understand this growing health care trend.”

For more information:

Uscher-Pines L. Health Aff. doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2013.0989.

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