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J Med Internet Res. 2017 Feb 17;19(2):e35. doi: 10.2196/jmir.6783.

Virtual Visits for Acute, Nonurgent Care: A Claims Analysis of Episode-Level Utilization.

Author information

1
HealthCore, Inc, Wilmington, DE, United States.
2
Anthem, Inc, Indianapolis, IN, United States.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Expansion of virtual health care-real-time video consultation with a physician via the Internet-will continue as use of mobile devices and patient demand for immediate, convenient access to care grow.

OBJECTIVE:

The objective of the study is to analyze the care provided and the cost of virtual visits over a 3-week episode compared with in-person visits to retail health clinics (RHC), urgent care centers (UCC), emergency departments (ED), or primary care physicians (PCP) for acute, nonurgent conditions.

METHODS:

A cross-sectional, retrospective analysis of claims from a large commercial health insurer was performed to compare care and cost of patients receiving care via virtual visits for a condition of interest (sinusitis, upper respiratory infection, urinary tract infection, conjunctivitis, bronchitis, pharyngitis, influenza, cough, dermatitis, digestive symptom, or ear pain) matched to those receiving care for similar conditions in other settings. An episode was defined as the index visit plus 3 weeks following. Patients were children and adults younger than 65 years of age without serious chronic conditions. Visits were classified according to the setting where the visit occurred. Care provided was assessed by follow-up outpatient visits, ED visits, or hospitalizations; laboratory tests or imaging performed; and antibiotic use after the initial visit. Episode costs included the cost of the initial visit, subsequent medical care, and pharmacy.

RESULTS:

A total of 59,945 visits were included in the analysis (4635 virtual visits and 55,310 nonvirtual visits). Virtual visit episodes had similar follow-up outpatient visit rates (28.09%) as PCP (28.10%, P=.99) and RHC visits (28.59%, P=.51). During the episode, lab rates for virtual visits (12.56%) were lower than in-person locations (RHC: 36.79%, P<.001; UCC: 39.01%, P<.001; ED: 53.15%, P<.001; PCP: 37.40%, P<.001), and imaging rates for virtual visits (6.62%) were typically lower than in-person locations (RHC: 5.97%, P=.11; UCC: 8.77%, P<.001; ED: 43.06%, P<.001; PCP: 11.26%, P<.001). RHC, UCC, ED, and PCP were estimated to be $36, $153, $1735, and $162 more expensive than virtual visit episodes, respectively, including medical and pharmacy costs.

CONCLUSIONS:

Virtual care appears to be a low-cost alternative to care administered in other settings with lower testing rates. The similar follow-up rate suggests adequate clinical resolution and that patients are not using virtual visits as a first step before seeking in-person care.

KEYWORDS:

claims analysis; health care utilization; virtual visit

PMID:
28213342
PMCID:
PMC5336603
DOI:
10.2196/jmir.6783
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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