Physician Study Finds Similar Outcomes From In-Person, Telehealth Consultations

By Jonathan Field | Managing Editor Thanks to health care reform and technological innovations in the private sector, the telehealth market is booming. And it is having a direct impact on the physician-patient relationship and on the health costs associated with an employer-sponsored health plan. The industry predicts continued, strong growth. According to a recent market analysis by IMS Research, the telehealth market will grow by 55 percent in 2013 after growing only 5 percent from 2010 to 2011 and 18 percent from 2011 to 2012. And a 2012 report by BCC Research, the Wellesley, Mass.-based market research firm, predicted that the global telehealth market was expected to double from $11.6 billion in 2011 to over $27 billion in 2016. InMedica, leading independent provider of market research and consultancy to the global medical electronics industry, predicts that in by 2017 the telehealth market will reach 1.8 million patients -- up from 300,000 in last year. The research firm attributes growth to four sectors of demand: federal, provider, payer and patient. For more details on the projected growth of telehealth market, view InMedica's new report The World Market for Telehealth – An Analysis of Demand Dynamics – 2012. Internet capabilities and a variety of cutting-edge, proprietary online health portals allow patients and physicians to interact virtually rather than face-to-face. JAMA Internal Medicine, a leading, peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Medical Association, describes the process succinctly:
In e-visits, patients log into their secure personal health record internet portal and answer a series of questions about their condition. This written information is sent to the physicians, who make a diagnosis, order necessary care, put a note in the patients' electronic medical records, and reply to the patients via the secure portal within several hours. The convenience and efficiency of the telehealth process cannot be denied, and the cost-saving potential for both employees and employers alike is significant. However, this says nothing of the quality of patient care.
New research published in Volume 173 (No. 1) of JAMA Internal Medicine looks at -- perhaps for the first time -- a direct comparison of the quality of patient care physician e-visits and in-person doctors' visits. Researchers looked at some 8,000 patients with sinus infections and urinary tract infections between January 2010 and May 2011. The study found that for both patient groups -- those treated virtually and in-person -- 7 percent or less of patients returned for another consultation within three weeks, suggesting that those treated through a telehealth platform did not have higher rates of misdiagnosis or treatment failure. Furthermore, the JAMA researchers found that patients treated through an e-visited payed 21 percent less than those treated with an office visit. As both federal regulations and private sector innovations fuel the rapid growth in the telehealth market, studies like the one published by the Journal of the American Medical Association will become increasingly necessary to assure the quality of patient care equals the convenience and cost-efficiency in the telehealth market.