Objective: To compare direct-to-consumer (DTC) telemedicine and in-person visits in rates of testing, follow-up health care use, and quality for urinary tract infections (UTIs) and sinusitis.
Data source: The Minnesota All Payer Claims Data provided 2008-2015 administrative claims data.
Study design: Using a difference-in-differences approach, we compared episodes of care for UTIs and sinusitis among enrollees of health plans introducing coverage for DTC telemedicine relative to those without DTC telemedicine coverage. Primary outcomes included number of laboratory tests, antibiotics filled, office and outpatient visits, emergency department (ED) visits, and standardized spending, based on standardized prices of health services.
Data collection: The study sample included non-elderly enrollees of commercial health insurance plans. We constructed 30-day episodes of care initiated by a DTC telemedicine or in-person visit.
Principal findings: The UTI and sinusitis samples were comprised of 215,134 and 624,630 episodes of care, respectively. Following the introduction of coverage for DTC telemedicine, 15.7% of UTI episodes and 8.9% of sinusitis episodes were initiated with DTC telemedicine. Compared to episodes without coverage for DTC telemedicine, UTI episodes with coverage had 0.25 fewer lab tests (95% CI: -0.33, -0.18; p < 0.001), lower standardized spending for the first UTI visit (-$11.18 [95% CI: -$21.62, -$0.75]; p < 0.05), and no change in office and outpatient visits, ED visits, antibiotics filled, or standardized medical spending. Sinusitis episodes with coverage for DTC telemedicine had fewer antibiotics filled (-0.08 [95% CI: -0.14, -0.01]; p < 0.05) and a very small increase in ED visits (0.001 [95% CI: 0.001, 0.010]; p < 0.05), but no change in lab tests, office and outpatient visits, or standardized medical spending.
Conclusions: Among commercially insured patients, coverage of DTC telemedicine was associated with reductions in antibiotics for sinusitis and laboratory tests for UTI without changes in downstream total office and outpatient visits or changes in ED visits.
Keywords: direct-to-consumer telehealth; health insurance coverage; telemedicine.
© 2023 Health Research and Educational Trust.