Comparison of Telemedicine Versus In-Person Visits on Impact of Downstream Utilization of Care

Telemed J E Health. 2021 Oct;27(10):1099-1104. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2020.0286. Epub 2021 Jan 29.


Background: Telemedicine use has expanded substantially in recent years. Studies evaluating the impact of telemedicine modalities on downstream office visits have demonstrated mixed results. Introduction: We evaluated insurance claims of a large commercial payer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM), to assess the frequency of follow-up visits following encounters initiated via telemedicine versus in-person. Materials and Methods: We used the BCBSM claim-level data set (2011-2017) to assess encounters in the following places of service: hospital outpatient, doctor's office, patient's home, or psychiatric daycare facility. We identified the primary diagnostic category for 30-day episodes of care using clinical classifications software (CCS) and multilevel clinical classifications software (ML-CCS). Our intervention group consisted of episodes initiated via telemedicine; our control group consisted of episodes initiated in-person. Our primary outcome was the percentage of 30-day episodes with a related visit (encounters occurring within the same period and CCS categories) across CCS categories. Our secondary outcome was the mean related visit rate. Results: The final data set included 4,982,456 patients and 68,148,070 claims, of which 53,853 were telemedicine related. Many episodes did not have related visits (the mean related visit rate was 16%). Telemedicine visits had a higher frequency of related visits across all CCS categories. Discussion: Episodes of care initiated via telemedicine more frequently generate related visits within a 30-day period. This increased health care utilization could represent excessive care or could reflect expanded access to care. Conclusion: Further research should explore the cause of this increased utilization and potential unintended consequences.

Keywords: business administration/economics; policy; telehealth; telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Office Visits
  • Outpatients
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Telemedicine*
  • Vocabulary, Controlled