According to a new study published in JAMA, telemedicine use has been skyrocketing since 2005. Researchers, curious about the adoption pattern of telemedicine, examined the trends in telemedicine use and its association with factors such as parity legislation and physician supply within a large commercial health plan. They found that from 2005 to 2017, telemedicine usage grew from 206 visits in 2005 to about 202,300 visits in 2017. Telemedicine usage expanded the most in primary care and telemental health (telepsychiatry); this rise, they surmise, may be largely due to increasing payer coverage for direct-to-consumer telemedicine.
Interestingly, the study authors noted that the average patient was 38 years old, and almost two-thirds of the patients were female. Four out of five patients lived in urban areas, suggesting that telemedicine has not yet made the expected inroads into rural regions to overcome the shortage of local physicians.
Telepsychiatry was more popular in areas with a scarcity of psychiatrists and in states with more parity—that is, with more equivalent reimbursement between in-person health services and telemedicine services. However, primary care telemedicine did not correlate with physician availability; in this case, patients seemed to value convenience.
Despite the impressive growth of telemedicine usage during the last 13 years, telemedicine services are still relatively uncommon today. Only half of U.S. hospitals offer telemedicine of any type, and only 34 states plus the District of Columbia have passed parity laws. A survey last year discovered that 30% of healthcare executives consider telemedicine a high priority in their organization, but the results of this new JAMA study imply that no matter how well-planned the telemedicine program may be, it won’t succeed long term without the support of parity laws.
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