(HealthDay News) — Primary care visits conducted via telemedicine do not lead to higher healthcare utilization, according to a study published online Nov. 16 in JAMA Network Open.

Mary Reed, Dr.P.H., from Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, CA, and colleagues assessed whether treatment differs between primary care telemedicine and in-person visits and how often patients require in-person follow-up. Analysis included over 1.1 million patients who scheduled nearly 2.2 million primary care appointments through the patient portal from January 2016 to May 2018.

The researchers found that 38.6% of video visits, 34.7% of telephone visits, and 51.9% of office visits had any medication prescribed. Laboratory tests or imaging were ordered for 29.2% of video visits, 27.3% of telephone visits, and 59.3% of clinic visits. Follow-up visits within seven days of the index visit occurred after 25.4% of video visits, 26% of telephone visits, and 24.5% of office visits. There were no statistically significant differences in emergency department visits or rates of hospitalizations by primary care index visit type.

“In contrast to prior studies of direct-to-consumer telemedicine, we did not find evidence of over-ordering or over-prescribing among patients using telemedicine to visit their own primary care doctors,” the authors said in a statement. “Video or telephone visits may be a convenient and safe way for patients to address some primary care needs without generating a substantial number of follow-up office visits or experiencing health events.”

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