An increasing shift toward telemedicine use as a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may have implications for long-term health care delivery, according to a new case report published in the Journal of the American Informatics Association.
With social distancing efforts and stay-at-home measures in effect for most, both patients and providers are utilizing more “virtual” care models to limit unneeded in-person interactions. With changes in insurer coverage of telemedicine visit types, the practice has been quickly leveraged and adopted on a wide scale.
On March 19, NYU Langone Health expanded virtual video visits to all of its ambulatory care settings. A subsequent case study was conducted to examine the impact of the pandemic on telemedicine at the health system.
For the study, investigators used the health system’s electronic health record system Epic to capture COVID-related visits using diagnostic codes containing relevant respiratory issues, matching them with keywords describing symptoms such as fever, shortness of breath, cough, and more, over a 6-week period.
In total, there were 144,940 video visits conducted involving 115,789 unique patients and 2656 unique providers, according to the data. Investigators found that between March 2 and April 24, 2020, virtual urgent care visits at NYU Langone Health increased by 683% and non-urgent virtual care visits jumped by 4345% in daily averages. The massive uptake in telemedicine use during this timeframe has been accompanied by a decline of over 80% in in-person visits, according to the study.
Of all virtual visits, 56.2% of urgent care and 17.5% of non-urgent visits were COVID-19 related.
Additionally, the data showed that telemedicine use was highest among patients aged 20 to 44 years old, particularly for urgent care; however, patients of all ages demonstrated use of the technology.
Patients also remained as satisfied with the telemedicine virtual platform during this timeframe as they were pre-pandemic, the study found.
Not only do virtual visits make it easier for patients to adhere to social distancing standards, but the tool also allows providers who are asymptomatic, but quarantining, to provide care remotely from their homes.
This telemedicine growth will likely have a transformative effect on how health care is delivered–both during and after the pandemic.
“Beyond the clinical benefits and more effective utilization of providers in very atypical circumstances, the changes instigated initially by the COVID-19 pandemic have likely irreversibly altered the position of telemedicine in the US health care system,” the investigators wrote.
Mann DM, Chen J, Chunara R, et al. COVID-19 transforms health care through telemedicine: evidence from the field. Journal of the American Informatics Association. April 23, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1093/jamia/ocaa072