Researchers Concerned About Quality Telemedicine Visits

By George Chapman

A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals the impact of the pandemic on the delivery of primary care. Primary care visits were down overall 21% the second quarter of this year versus the same periods the last two years. In 2019, telemedicine accounted for just 2% of primary care encounters. In the second quarter of this year, 35% of primary care encounters were via telemedicine. Eighty percent of the physicians surveyed performed a virtual visit in the second quarter of this year versus just 9% the first quarter. Before the pandemic, an average 13,000 Medicare members per week would receive care via telemedicine. That jumped to 1.7 million the last week of April.

Researchers expressed some concern about the quality of primary care telemedicine visits right now, but concede it might be too early to sound an alarm because of the pandemic and the fact that everyone is still learning.

They found, overall, when compared to in person office visits, that virtual primary care visits resulted in fewer blood pressure checks, fewer cholesterol screens and fewer prescriptions.

It’s hard to predict what will happen with virtual primary care delivery once the virus has been eradicated. The longer the pandemic lasts, the more telemedicine becomes accepted and ingrained. JAMA wants to be sure that the quality of a virtual visit remains high.

George Chapman is the author of Healthcare in a Minute, a column that runs every issue in In Good Health.