The research scrutinized over 5 million individuals, discovering a striking contrast in ED visit tendencies following virtual consultations. Patients engaging in telehealth with outside physicians exhibited a 66 percent higher likelihood of visiting an ED within a week compared to those consulting their regular doctors. Moreover, these ED visits were more pronounced in the initial days post-virtual session, hinting at the triaging potential of telehealth. The study also uncovered disparities in subsequent in-person follow-up visits, emphasizing the importance of an established clinician-patient relationship in fostering successful telehealth interactions.
The study delves into the ramifications of telehealth consultations on emergency department (ED) visits concerning patients’ relationships with their physicians. Amidst the rapid expansion of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, the research sought to unravel the influence of virtual visits, especially those with physicians familiar or unfamiliar to the patients. Examining data from Ontario, Canada, the study aimed to determine if virtual sessions within an ongoing provider-patient relationship differed significantly from consultations with outside physicians regarding subsequent ED visits.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the surge in telehealth adoption raised concerns regarding continuity of care. While direct-to-consumer telehealth enhances healthcare accessibility, it may also cause care fragmentation due to a lack of ongoing rapport between patients and on-demand service providers.
The study aimed to evaluate ED usage disparities following virtual visits with a patient’s family physician versus an outside physician. Analyzing data from Ontario, Canada residents who engaged in virtual visits from April 2021 to March 2022, the study assessed whether an ED visit occurred within seven days post-virtual session as the primary outcome.
Data from 5.22 million individuals in Ontario was scrutinized, with 4.17 million having initial virtual visits with their physicians, while 1.05 million saw outside physicians. Those consulting outside physicians were typically younger, lived in urban areas, and had fewer prior visits to their physicians compared to patients who virtually met their regular doctors.
Findings revealed that patients consulting outside physicians virtually were 66 percent more likely to visit an ED within seven days. This translated to an extra ED visit for every 77 virtual visits to an outside physician.
Moreover, the surge in ED visits linked to virtual consultations with outside physicians was predominantly observed in the initial days, indicating that virtual visits might aid in triaging and identifying patients requiring in-person assessments.
While patients consulting outside physicians were more likely to have an in-person family physician visit within seven days compared to those meeting their physician virtually, they were less likely to follow up with their regular doctor. This discrepancy suggests that these visits might have involved repeat trips to walk-in or virtual clinics.
Conclusively, the study advocates for primary care virtual visits within an existing clinician-patient relationship, emphasizing the importance of established rapport for telehealth interactions.
Research on telehealth’s influence on healthcare utilization continues to grow. Recent studies illustrate varied outcomes regarding in-person follow-up rates post-telehealth visits and disparities in completing recommended tests and seeking referrals during virtual sessions compared to in-person appointments.
For instance, a study observed a relatively low but higher rate of in-person follow-up visits after phone and video consultations for primary care compared to in-person appointments. Another study highlighted the decreased likelihood of patients completing recommended tests and referrals ordered during telehealth visits compared to in-person appointments.
In the dynamic landscape of telehealth, this study underscores the critical role of an ongoing provider-patient relationship in mitigating emergency department visits following virtual consultations. The findings advocate for the integration of primary care virtual visits within existing clinician-patient relationships, highlighting the significance of continuity in healthcare delivery. As the realm of telehealth continues to evolve, these insights shed light on the pivotal role of established rapport in optimizing the effectiveness of remote healthcare services.