January 21, 2019

Study Finds Virtual Visits Partially Replaced In-Person Visits

Dr. Rao and Telehealth Team

Dr. Rao reviews updates to the Partners Virtual Visits platform with the Population Health Telehealth team.

Sandhya Rao, MD, Senior Medical Director for Partners Population Health, recently published an article in the journal Health Affairs* which examines how Virtual Visits (a teleconference between a provider and their patient) could potentially replace in-person office visits.

Specialty care, which includes things like cardiology or endocrinology, can account for significant medical costs. To address this high cost area, some Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), like Partners HealthCare, have sought to replace higher cost in-person visits with lower-cost alternatives such as virtual visits. But those in the health care industry have questioned if virtual visits will actually lead to more in-office visits, which would not reduce overall cost in the long run.

Using data from over 35,000 patients in the period from 2014–17 within the Partners HealthCare Medicare ACO, Dr. Rao and her collaborators found that the use of virtual visits reduced in-person visits by 33 percent but increased total visits (virtual visits and in-person visits) by 80 percent over 1.5 years. While the use of virtual visits reduced in-person visits soon after registering with the program, the effect did not endure beyond a year. Whether and how virtual visits can substitute for in-person care in the long term are open questions.

*Partners HealthCare employees can request access to the full article through the MGH Treadwell Library

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