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Telemedicine continues to make inroads into the practice of medicine.  A new study suggests telehealth may provide needed care to consumers while reducing demand on emergency departments.

Though in use prior to the COVID pandemic, telehealth vaulted to the forefront of the practice of medicine as social distancing became a health practice due to contagion. Along with Urgent Care services conveniently located in suburban communities; one aim of telehealth is to increase convenience to consumers while providing health guidance on some types of medical concerns.

A recent survey from the Bipartisan Policy Center and Social Sciences Research Solutions (SSRS) provides an interesting and important look at the state of telemedicine today.  The survey sampled opinions of 1,776 adults between June and July 2021, that included Hispanic, Black, and older adults as well as those who live in rural settings. Findings of the survey include:

  • In addition to use during the pandemic, the survey finds many adults will use telemedicine to address routine and preventative care issues going forward. Approximately one-third of US adults used telemedicine during the past year for themselves or a dependent.  Older adults were most likely to have used telehealth in the previous year.
  • Approximately one in seven people (14 percent) who had a telehealth visit said they would have visited an emergency department or urgent care if telehealth had not been available.  Of those patients, over half were able to resolve the concern for which they sought medical advice. About 65 percent of the telemedicine appointments were for advice with chronic illnesses like diabetes or prescription refills.  Of these appointments, audio-only calls were equally as successful as video-calls.
  • About 45 percent of rural and older adults reported some sort of technical glitch as an obstacle to obtaining help through a phone or video call to a medical practitioner.  Of these, 42 percent of seniors and 37 percent of rural residents noted lack of broadband as an issue.
  • Approximately four percent of survey respondents were directed to an emergency department during their telehealth visit.  The survey also indicated about two in ten adults would have delayed seeking medical care if telemedicine was not available.

Telemedicine continues to come of age.  A critical question of telehealth is whether dangerous but sometimes quiet symptoms involving cardiovascular disease, stroke, or embolism could be missed on a telehealth visit that would be more quickly evaluated in an ED setting.

That said, with skilled triage, telehealth may prove assistive for patients with serious concerns who might otherwise have delayed obtaining care.  We’ll keep you posted.

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