- E-visits and other online care options have been touted as a way for primary care doctors to see more patients by handle routine questions and concerns remotely. However, a new study suggests the practice could have unintended consequences.
- Researchers at the Wisconsin School of Business at University of Wisconsin-Madison reviewed five years of in-house, phone and e-visit healthcare encounters for more than 140,000 patients and found providers adopting e-visits had a 6% increase in office visits prompted by those encounters.
- The additional visits added 45 minutes per month in extra time doctors spent on those visits and resulted in 15% fewer patients being seen overall.
“Offering e-visits seems like a great way to save time and money by reducing the need for office visits because routine questions or updates could be done via email,” Hessam Bavafa, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “The problem is that healthcare is much more complicated — patients may overreact to minor symptoms or not be clear enough in describing their situation and that leads to doctors feeling obligated to schedule an office visit. The resulting office visits can eliminate any efficiencies gained from e-visit systems.”
To improve use of e-visits, the study suggests structuring and targeting them. For example, doctors could use pre-visit questions to prompt more details about a patient’s symptoms or concerns to aid in diagnosis.
The study’s echoes earlier research questioning the benefits of online care options. In a 2014 study, Mayo Clinic researchers reported no significant impact on the frequency of face-to-face primary care visits for adults when patient portals and e-visits were used.
Patients are looking for ways to simplify their healthcare experience, whether that means scheduling an e-visit, going to a retail clinic or using telemedicine. Speaking in Nashville earlier this year, Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard Tyson said more than half of the system’s more than 100 million annual patient encounters take place remotely.