The use of direct-to-consumer telehealth, in which a patient has access to a physician via telephone or videoconferencing, is growing rapidly. A key attraction of this type of telehealth for health plans and employers is the potential savings involved in replacing physician office and emergency department visits with less expensive virtual visits. However, findings from a new study published in Health Affairs show increased convenience may tap into unmet demand for health care, and new utilization may increase overall health care spending. The authors used commercial claims data on over 300,000 patients from three years (2011–13) to explore patterns of utilization and spending for acute respiratory illnesses. They estimated that 12 percent of direct-to-consumer telehealth visits replaced visits to other providers, and 88 percent represented new utilization. Net annual spending on acute respiratory illness increased $45 per telehealth user. Direct-to-consumer telehealth may increase access by making care more convenient for certain patients, but it may also increase utilization and health care spending.
Read more: Direct-To-Consumer Telehealth May Increase Access To Care But Does Not Decrease Spending. Health Affairs. March 2017.